Driftless, a new play, traces fracking through our kitchen sinks


The new play Driftless from Hatch Arts Collective brings all kind of nuanced attention to the seemingly simple act of walking up to a kitchen sink, filling a glass of water, and taking a sip.

In the unique New Hazlett Theater space, Driftless shows the stories of two families in their intimate kitchen settings. The set includes fully functional kitchen sinks where the characters absentmindedly fill their drinking cups during their normal family conversations about grandparent guilt around marriage, excitement about Steelers games, and the process of building an Ikea table.

Throughout the play, though, the act of drinking water shifts into focus and becomes increasingly complex, drawing attention to the insidious process by which fracking can impact the lives of normal people.


Siovhan Christensen examines the water. Photo by Hatch Arts Collective

The strength of Hatch Arts Collective comes from their focus on artistic conversation and collaboration. (See my profile about their previous productions.)

Driftless follows in that collaborative vein. The initial idea came when writer Paul Kruse’s brother was arrested while protesting the fracking process. This full-length play stems out of three years of subsequent artistic exploration of fracking through interviews, research, and community-based workshops.

“Only perfectly round, perfectly strong sand can be used in fracking,” a Driftless character states in a montage of scientific narrative about the fracking process. The largest supply of this sand is found in the Driftless area of the upper Midwest, which is where the play gets its name.

Multiple kinds of voices–scientific, religious, medical, interpersonal–get juxtaposed in the play’s layered style on a symbolically multi-level set.

Fracking descriptions come from a second-floor balcony accompanied by haunting music and dramatic lighting. Religious words are recited from a third-story lit circle that towers above the audience. A memorial service happens intimately on the ground level.

The physical levels and personal narratives of Driftless help bring nuance to the play’s complicated issues of addiction, economic stability, chronic disease, land ownership, death, relationships, and how communities support one another.

With such seriousness and intensity, the play still maintains many lighthearted moments that provide a relatable contrast.


Photo of Driftless cast by Hatch Arts Collective

The play opens many unanswered questions and a creative context for furthering the fracking conversation.

Driftless takes place on August 11, 12, and 13, 2016 at 8:00 p.m. and August 14 at 2:00 p.m. at the New Hazlett Theater on Pittsburgh’s North Side. Tickets are $15 in advance online and $20 at the door.


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