Atlas of Mud premieres today


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Lights flicker, the sound of rain trickles through the theater, and a little girl's voice, characterized by her sadness, tell the story of a tragic time. She describes how she witnessed people fighting to get on a boat similar to the one she was on to escape a flood.

That is only one scene in Jennifer Fawcett's Atlas of Mud. The play will open at 7:30 p.m. today in Riverside Theatre, 213 N. Gilbert St.; shows will continue through Dec. 12 with Thursday through Saturday performances at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Admission is $12 for students, $15 for general admission.

The play follows the story of a mother and child trying to find each other in a post-flood world. The first half takes place before the flood in an evacuated city. Atlas of Mud highlights the struggle with faith — not only religious faith but also the belief that humans, through science, can fix global climate change.

The second half takes place on a boat after the world has been flooded for eight years. A little girl, Mud, is a stowaway being cared for by three bird keepers who are working on a project called the Bird Program.

"I love this play — it has something for everyone," said Natalie Kropf, a senior at Cornell College who plays the character Mud. "I've learned so much from working with everyone; it's a great way to top off my college experience."

Atlas of Mud was derived from Fawcett's need to write a play about flood mythology for a Canadian theater. It has since changed, with inspiration from Hurricane Katrina, the 2008 Iowa floods, and artists Fawcett has worked with along the way.

Her favorite part of the production is the set designed by local artist Shawn Johnson and the cast of actors from the community. Johnson designed a 23-foot boat that will be seen on stage. His work is accompanied by local musician Sky Carrasco's original score and rock 'n' roll lights done by Drew Belinski.

"Bringing these elements together is scary at times, but as it has worked in the rehearsals, we realize more and more what a special thing we have here," said director Sean Lewis, who worked withcast members so they could understand all the elements of the play.

He said the success is due to the actors' willingness help make so powerful.

"Their professionalism, ideas, suggestions, and drive has been exciting," Lewis said.

Martin Andrews, who plays Elias and a captain, emphasizes that the play has been an evolving process.

"It's fun figuring out who [the characters] are," he said.

Brandon Bruce, who plays Marcus and a bird keeper, appreciates that Fawcett has incorporated different issues and ideas in the script.

"I find myself attracted to this play because it doesn't need to find its own niche," he said.

Fawcett said she thinks the collaboration makes the work better than what she could make it on her own.

"It's wonderful to feel the story sharpening, the relationships coming to life, and the questions deepening when all of these people start working toward the common goal of putting on the play," she said.

Through the work, there were obstacles. Like any project, time and money made things difficult, but Lewis said the actors are ready.

With the opening quickly approaching, everyone involved in the production said they are excited that the community will see the thought-provoking piece.

"It's going to be absolutely beautiful, from the music to the lighting to the set to the language," Fawcett said.

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