Play explores tragedy of Sudan
‘The Long Walk for Water’
Passion Theatre, Euclid Avenue United Methodist Church, 405 S. Euclid Ave., Oak Park
7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, Oct. 19-28
(773) 426-1168; www.indiegogo.com/p/230660
Updated: October 17, 2012 3:08PM
Three things are desperately needed in South Sudan — peace, clean water and health care.
Jerry Miller is helping to provide the third through his production of “The Long Walk for Water” at Passion Theatre.
Miller adapted the play from Linda Sue Park’s book A Long Walk to Water, about two children from South Sudan who belong to opposing warring tribes. Park wrote it based on the true story of a man she met named Salva Dut.
“All the ticket sales will go to build a medical clinic in the village of Jambo in South Sudan,” said Miller, who also directs the play.
That is the home village of Kenneth Elisapana, Miller’s friend and a member of the congregation of Oak Park’s Euclid Avenue United Methodist Church where the play is being staged. Elisapana, who escaped from his war-torn country in 1992, founded South Sudan Voices of Hope in 2005. The organization raises money for that medical clinic, as well as to improve drinking water and provide goats for families. Euclid Avenue has been supporting the mission and Miller reported, “The church will match anything we make up to $3,000.”
The main character in the play is Salva whose father, an elder in his village, raises cattle. “The rebel soldiers come and burn the village,” Miller said. “The people flee and wander in the desert. Salva doesn’t know where his family is. He is all alone. He goes from refugee camp to refugee camp. He has to survive lions and crocodiles and mosquitoes and famine. He marches with 1,500 ‘Lost Boys’ toward Ethiopia. At one camp, he gets chosen to go to America. He ends up going back to his country and building water wells.”
Fifteen-year-old Trevor Taylor, who is in the International Baccalaureate Program at Taft High School in Chicago, stars in the demanding role of Salva. Trevor said that he only knew a little bit about the situation in South Sudan before taking on the role.
To prepare, Trevor read the source book. “I’ve also watched the movie, ‘The Lost Boys of Sudan,’” the young actor said. “I love all of the new things I am learning through this experience.”
The most difficult aspect of the part is “trying to get all the emotional aspects of what Salva is going through,” Trevor said. “I have to really show that so that people can connect with the story.”
The play also tells the story of Nya, who lives in South Sudan today.
The play utilizes images and sound by Aaron Stigger, lighting design by Joe Gajewski, African drum music by percussionist Carl Spight, and original music and lyrics by Dorie Elizey Blesoff.
Oak Park resident Blesoff, a member of the Euclid Avenue United Methodist Church congregation, is a long-time singer/songwriter. To prepare for her role, Blesoff read the source book and spoke with Elisapana.
“Reading the book is what tuned me in to the story of these two young people whose lives overlapped in very interesting ways,” the composer said. “They were from different tribes so it became a metaphor for the rebuilding of this merging country. I found the story to be very moving. I tuned into the issue of access to clean water.”
Music and singing are woven into the play in four places. “There’s a chorus that repeats itself and then there are various verses sung by different characters,” Blesoff said. I was able to bring alive some of the dialogue and some of the inner feelings and thoughts of the characters.”
One musical interlude occurs when Salva is experiencing yet another great loss in his life. “The music helps to tell the story of his reaching out to his family,” Blesoff said. “As far as he knows, his family is already dead and gone, but he imagines that he sees them in the stars. In the music, they sing to him.”