MUST SEEREVIEWSTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

By the Water

By Sharyn Rothstein.

Directed by Cody Estle.

At Northlight Theatre, Skokie.

Family drama features terrific writing and fine acting by the “A” list Chicago cast.

We meet a family trying to recoup from having their house near the water on Staten Island devastated by Hurricane Sandy (set design by Jeffery D. Kmiec). They have little left but they are determined to repair and continue living in the home that they have lived in for decades.  Marty Murphy (Francis Guinan) and Mary Murphy (Penny Slusher) are determined, even bull-headed about repairing their house and staying in their community on Staten Island. But the storm has devasted their neighbors to the point that they all want to move inland away from the potential from tropical storms.  But Marty vows to stay even when his wife Mary and their oldest son Sal (Jordan Brown) advises them to leave and take the federal government’s relocation money.

When Sal visits the damaged house, he quarrels and reasons with Marty to abandon the place and start fresh somewhere else. These confrontations between Sal, the successful New York City dweller, and the troubled Marty (his father) whose family secrets start to unfold. We witness more reasons why Marty wishes to keep his home and the community he has long been a fixture.  But when he starts a campaign to get his neighbors to stay and resist the government buyout, his best friends, the Carter’s, Andrea (Janet Ulrich Brooks) and Phillip (Patrick Clear) disagree and opt for selling and relocating. More secrets complicate things.

Sal and his younger brother Brian (Joel Reitsma) are estranged since Sal told the police where Brian was hiding out that lead to 29 months in prison for theft. Brian is ambivalent toward his parents moving. Mary has always given in to Marty no matter what he does or wants. She is now moving to defy his wish of staying in the house.  Throughout this  cleverly written drama, past betrayals come rushing to the surface as the conflict deepens.

This play is cliche-free, realistically plotted with several outstanding performances. Francis Guinan, as Marty, is the flawed father plays Marty’s contradictions, stubbornness and guilt with a human touch filled with honesty and vulnerability. Penny Slusher’s Mary is the suffering wife/mother who finally has had enough of Marty’s dominance.  Jordon Brown, as the generous and enlightened son, Sal was most effective.

The resolutions of the plot twists and the subplot involving Reitsma’s Brian and Emily Mancini (Amanda Drinkall) was nicely presented and plausible. By the Water uses the diaster to trigger deep-seated personal problems and how to move forward from them.  Times change, people change, loyalties shift but family core values survive as life moves on. With clever dialogue, surprising humor and realistic characters, By the Water is a smart different family drama. Director Cody Estle has his actors nicely rendering their characters blending their angst with humor and passion. This is a wonderful play that needs to be seen.

Highly  Recommended.

Tom Williams.

Date Reviewed: March 25, 2017.

Jeff Recommended.

For more info checkout the By the Water page at

At Northlight Theatre, 9501 N. Skokie Blvd, Skokie, IL, call847-673-6300,, tickets $30 – $81, Wednesdays at 1  & 7:30 pm, Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2:30 & 6 pm, Sundays at 2:30 & 7 pm, running time is 100 minutes without an intermission, through April 23, 2017.