Sunday, May 13, 2012

THEATER: pool (no water)

Photo/Scott J. Fetterman
Here's poetic justice for you: a successful artist invites the embittered, distant friends of her old Bohemian collective to visit her mansion, to reminisce about their happier pasts, "when it all seemed to mean so much when everything was so full of meaning yes it was all drenched in meaning and we all cared we all cared so passionately." This artist, who made her reputation by repackaging and selling the "blood and bandages and catheter and condoms" of their friend Ray, after he lost the battle with AIDS, soon finds herself in the hospital, shattered by an Icarus-like dive into an unfilled pool: now she is the subject, and now her "friends" are the ones enjoying the privilege (living in her house while she recovers) that they have, until this point, railed against. And yet, with each new photo and the shared dreams of the success they'll find in this morbid exploitation, they are filling the pools of their soul with new depths of self-loathing.

And here's theatrical justice for you: One Year Lease -- a reliable company that by now ought to merit a lengthier lease -- has taken all this shame and disgust, this blood and bile, and, like the artists described within, made something beautiful out of it. This is not to imply that Mark Ravenhill's pool (no water), which made its UK premiere in 2006, is not thrilling on its own, but more to acknowledge the excellent work Ianthe Demos has done in adapting what is essentially free verse (no characters are named, though individual threads involving sex, drugs, and fitness can be isolated within the communal text). Emotions are heightened with interpretive choreography by Natalie Lomonte: as one member of the group lets loose a series of obscenities at the unjust death of a friend, the other three artists lift and manipulate a fourth member, as if they might lift her out her coffin and fly. The atmosphere is well set by the familiarity between Mike Riggs's lighting and James Hunting's set design: five skeletally white tables collapse on one another like fractured vertebrae or extend into a makeshift runway, all while spotlights single members of this collective out in the inky depths of their shame.

One of the artists (the ensemble consists of Estelle Bajou, Christina Bennett Lind, Christopher Baker, Nick Flint, and Richard Saudek) observes that "Science and art can work together happily," and that's precisely what occurs here, with taut theatrical staging providing a solid backbone for both Ravenhill's darkly poetic tendencies and his graphic necessities. The present-tense accounting of their "friend's" near-fatal accident in the pool is horrifyingly potent, as the jealous artists forget themselves, standing around her with their giddy "angel" metaphors; the illusory sensations of a splash that never quite comes; the cold, predatory emotions born "a life without empathy" and the absence that implies -- both for them and now for this unconscious body; until finally snapping back to reality as "A little stream of piss comes out of her now -- green from all the wine." (One Year Lease has also staged works by Ionesco and Clay McLeod Chapman; they understand how to execute rapid shifts in tone and language.)

These are our darkest unconscious thoughts, splayed naked across the bodies of this five-person ensemble and paraded around over the course of this hour-long play. Not just simple jealous or eviler envy, but murderous hatred, in all of its lunatic hypocrisy. ("Be honest -- I've done my dues -- I want to be privileged.") We see not only the artistic effects of aging, but the realization that their art is not enough to fend it off: "Sally has gone and Art did nothing and Art could do nothing and Death is big and we are small and really we're nothing, we're nothing." And if these appear to be simple statements, watch how they blend together and boil until you find yourself soaking -- drowning, really -- in a pool of fetid self-delusions. Disgusting, yes, but beautiful, and perhaps holistically revealing, too. If you're the type to sweat under such conditions (and OK, yes, the ending is a little too forgiving, underwhelming, and pat), you might want to bring a towel to pool (no water). Leave your beach reads at home.

1 comment:

jasmine said...

I actually enjoyed reading through this posting.Many thanks.

Filling a Swimming Pool