‘Thicker Than Water’: Barter tackles sensitive subject matter in powerful new play

Jessica Fischer • Aug 28, 2013 at 9:50 AM

When Richard Rose first read Douglas Parker’s play “Thicker Than Water” about Andrea Yates, the Texas mother who drowned her five children in the bathtub in 2001, he found it to be one of the most poetic, powerful, truthful and, strangely enough, beautiful theatre pieces he’d happened upon in years.

“As one who reads, literally, hundreds of plays per year, for a play to make that kind of impression on me says something really significant about the quality and the power of the writing,” said Rose, Barter Theatre’s producing artistic director.

Rose wondered, however, if the sensitive subject matter might make some people hesitant to attend. So Barter placed Parker’s play into the reading series of its 2012 Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights, where it sparked one of the most powerful and engaging discussions in the festival’s 13-year history.

Rose hopes to further the dialogue when Barter opens its full production of “Thicker Than Water” on Sept. 3. Performances will continue through Oct. 6 on Barter Stage II.

On June 20, 2001, Andrea Yates drowned each of her five children — ages 6 months to 7 years old — in the bathtub of the family’s Houston home.

Parker used the actual words from court transcripts along with police interviews and media coverage of the Andrea Yates trial to craft his play, yet he is quick to point out that “Thicker Than Water” is not a re-enactment or a documentary. Rather, the play weaves a story of America in search of answers for an action not so easily explained.

Why would a mother kill her own children? Was it postpartum depression or mental illness that drove her to commit murder? It is well-documented that Yates was on heavy anti-psychotic drugs before and after that fateful June day and had been previously treated for depression. Was it her husband’s disconnect toward her troubled spirit? Could it have been her fear of the devil?

“Parker’s play, fashioned into a poetic and powerful theatrical experience — one you will never forget — is really not so much about Andrea Yates as it is about ourselves,” said Rose, who is directing Barter’s production. “We, as a society and as individuals, are defined through such events as these.

“We have engaged in a great deal of discussion about this play with the cast and the staff in depths that we rarely discuss concerning our productions — powerful discussions including the purpose and the value in producing such a work. I could easily write a 10-page essay including the wonderful and compelling remarks from the cast as to why they think this work of theatre is so important for us to produce, perform and present to our audiences.”

“Thicker Than Water” stars Hannah Ingram as Andrea Yates. Rick McVey, Justin Tyler Lewis, Andrew Slane, Mary Lucy Bivins, Parris Cromer, Abbey C. Elliott, Holly Williams, Bob Payne, Rebekah Anwyll, Terrance Jackson and Zacchaeus Kimbrell round out the cast.

A post-show discussion will be held immediately following each performance, giving audience members a chance to interact with the show’s cast and collaborators and to share their thoughts about the significance and impact of the play. Highlands Community Services will have therapists on hand to engage with the audience as part of the post-show discussions.

“We are happy to assist with the discussions concerning ‘Thicker Than Water,’ and are appreciative that Barter Theatre considers the ramifications that may sometimes result when an audience views a work of this nature,” said Danielle Lamson, communications manager for Highlands Community Services. “We believe strongly in the concept of ‘trauma-informed care’ and we are glad to see Barter believes in providing ‘trauma-informed theater.’”

Due to its mature content, “Thicker Than Water” is not recommended for patrons under age 17.

Tickets are $27, $32 and $34. For reservations or more information, call Barter’s box office at (276) 628-3991 or visit www.bartertheatre.com.

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