UNDERWATER (EXPLORATIONS ON A DAM), Side Project, at the Side Studio. Construction of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River began in 1994, after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, which cut down thousands of protesters, put an end to almost a century of controversy. The Side Project’s “Underwater” is comprised of four short plays addressing these events. Kerensa Peterson’s Float documents the relocation efforts of villagers forced off their land by flooding; one self-styled Noah waits patiently for the rising water to launch his newly built boat. In Jeremy Menekseoglu’s Rape, embittered environmentalists and engineers argue the price of progress while naive citizens, both American and Chinese, stand by helplessly. The mother and father in Adam Webster’s Undertow lament the slaughter of their dissident son. And in China Is a Museum, Menekseoglu speculates on a nation bereft of the dam’s benefits, reduced to a Disney-fied exhibit for imperialist tourists.
The evening’s tone ranges from Pinteresque intimacy to agitprop shrillness–Menekseoglu’s contributions in particular rely heavily on incendiary rhetoric. But this multicultural ensemble’s unflinching commitment to the writers’ candid opinions is downright refreshing in a time when most dramatists prefer to hide behind a veneer of Brechtian “objectivity.”