Daniels’ “Flint” Debuts at Purple Rose Theater

“Flint,”a new play written by Jeff Daniels, will make its world premiere at the Purple Rose Theatre in January. Current talked with Guy Sanville, the play’s director, and Rhiannon Ragland, one of the four actors who will appear in the play, about the title and the necessity of leaving preconceptions behind.

Ragland: I think people see the title of the play, and that name is very evocative right now, so they’re immediately thinking, “Oh, it’s about the water crisis.” But it’s not a political play…

Sanville: Yeah, it’s not a documentary about the Flint water crisis. The water crisis is in there, but it’s not about that. It’s about how we got to where we are, and water is kind of a metaphor. Flint is always going to be associated with bad water, but really, it was the birth of the labor movement. For several generations, men and women made good lives there. They created the middle class of America, building automobiles and everything that went into them. And, almost overnight, it seemed, it changed.
We’ve got a black couple and a white couple. They’re best of friends. It’s about two couples who tell each other the truth one night.

That sounds different than Daniels’ earlier Michigan plays. It’s not “Escanaba” Part III.

Sanville: No, this play is for grown-ups. If it were a movie, it’d probably be rated R. A lot of stuff in our business right now is propaganda masquerading as art, designed to make liberals like me feel real good about myself—and that’s great… but this {play} is not propaganda. It attempts to argue both sides of an issue with something like equal force and clarity.

Ragland: There is a question raised in the play, “What changes a person? What happens to that person?” The water crisis isn’t actually the issue in Flint. The water crisis is the byproduct of what’s going on. It’s an example of what happens when a city forgets its people. And that’s happening in a lot of places in our country. What happens when you strip someone of their identity and you forget about them. How do they continue on, how do they survive? That’s their story.

Sanville: You see, as Rhiannon said, what happens to people when they become forgotten. Jeff {Daniels} wrote a prologue for the play and one of the characters says at the end of that prologue, “I’m the one they forgot.” So, it comes through the characters, you understand a little bit about how people can be forced to behave certain ways and do the things that they do and make the choices that they make. There is one saint in the play… and we’re working on that… (laughter)

To make this saint a little more human?

Sanville: Gotta have a wart or two, I think…

Ragland: We’re trying to just tell a story. We’re trying to evoke thought, not tell you what to think.

Thursday, January 18 through Saturday, March 10
Prices and times vary, see online
Purple Rose Theatre, 137 Park St., Chelsea
734-433-3673 | PurpleRoseTheatre.org

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