See a one-minute video of “June Rites!!” below.
It sounded enticing, a great way to celebrate the beginning of summer, the lifting of pandemic-era restrictions and the start of a new era of in-person theater: Waterwell, a theater company that has impressed me for years with its innovative site-specific plays and musicals (The Courtroom, Blueprint Specials) promised “an original hour of visually stunning and viscerally contagious live performance” on Governors Island, conceived by two of the cast members from David Byrne’s American Utopia.
And so I committed to “June Rites!!” as they called it — not considering how a year of “attending” digital theater might have affected my….stamina, my patience.
I knew it would be a relatively novel trip – I’d been avoiding the subway, I hadn’t taken a ferry for more than a year – but it was uneventful until I arrived at the island. I followed a makeshift sign that led me to Nolan Park, which is not where they said they would be. Had they relocated?
“Is this the Waterwell show?” I asked the man at the table with the programs.
“Yes,” he replied.
So I sat down under the shade of a tree listening to a black-clad quartet playing Vivaldi, before I checked the program and realized: I’m in the wrong place. This was the “Rite of Summer Music Festival,” not “June Rites!!”
What followed was the longest 20-minute walk of my life, under a scorching sun, to the very opposite end of the 172-acre island, a place called Picnic Point, where, thirsty and out of breath, I arrived at an open field with no trees for protection, and a scattering of wooden chairs. “You can sit in the front row,” somebody from Waterwell said, which was how I knew this was the show. I didn’t see a row exactly, front or otherwise, but I sat in a chair. Nearby, other people sat in chairs, wearing boxes on their heads. Eventually they moved. Mauro Refosco and Gustavo Di Dalva started playing percussive sounds. At the climax, one performer wheeled a baby carriage, while another pushed a walker and a third carried around some shopping bags as if a harried mother. It lasted about 45 minutes – far less time than it had taken me to get there.
So this was “a civic ritual in dialogue with state fairs and summer solstice festivals?”
Once I was safely back home, I realized that few works of theater include a sweeping backdrop of New York Bay with both the actual Statue of Liberty and the Verrazano Bridge.
There are free daily performances of “June Rites!!” from now through June 27. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether it’s worth the journey, or you’ll be satisfied with the 54-second digital theater version below.