Lee Blessing is a prolific, award winning and award nominated playwright. In my relatively short time as a Southern California theatre critic, I have seen and commented on three of his plays and am now adding a fourth. I have found his works to be stimulating, thought provoking and entertaining, about as much as anyone could want in a theatre experience.
A brief rustling around in the Internet showed me that his intriguing play, A Body of Water, drew thoughtful notices back in 2005. A review of the 2008 New York production ended with this pithy bit—“As for a final recap, perhaps two audience members expressed it best. One of two women sitting directly in back of me said, ‘I loved it.’ Her friend replied, ‘How could you love it; you don’t even understand it.’ The first woman: ‘I still loved it.’”
The Actors Co-op production is touted as, “the world premiere of Blessings new ending.” Makes me wonder what got changed, what got cut and what if anything replaced the original. Makes me regret not attending the show when the playwright had a talk back.
A middle aged couple played by Bruce Ladd and Treva Tegtmeier enter into a nicely appointed living room set configured with the audience on all four sides of the square room. They are in their morning robes. They comment on how the house seems to be surrounded by water, a sight they find pleasing. The problem is they have no memories. They don’t know each other, they don’t know their own names. They seem pleasant and intelligent, but bewildered. They woke up in bed naked with the man’s hand on the woman’s breast. This leads him to believe they could be married. The woman is not so sure. They discretely open their robes to each other to check if that rings a bell. It doesn’t, and it wasn’t long before I scribbled the note, No Exit, referring to Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist play in which three people find themselves stuck in a room in Hell. This play is not that easy to pigeonhole.
A third character enters. She is a stern, attractive, impatient young woman named Wren (Ivy Beech), who informs them of their names—Moss and Avis. She tells them that he is a judge and she is the head of some kind of a do-gooder health organization. Significant people. She strives to get them to recall who and what they are. She has been doing this on a daily basis, hence her impatience with them. The nuts and bolts of their history and their relationship with this woman are the elements of a theatrical action that starts as comedy and morphs into a disturbing psychological thriller with many twist and turns right up to the very end with a stunning climax and a dénouement that leaves the threads of plot dangling for an audience to resolve for themselves. I remember finding my brow wrinkled in mild consternation. Who? What? Where? How? Why? The classic journalist’s list applies. And I thank the playwright for leaving me to ponder well after leaving the auditorium.
Under the keen direction of Nan McNamara, the cast is superb. The characters of Moss and Avis, blank slates to start with, become ever more complicated as the action unfolds. Wren is a cypher who shows a range diverse attitudes and emotions. Who, or what, is she really? To the cast—bravo, brava, bravissimi tutti!
The Actors Co-op production is handsomely mounted with an ideal scenic design by Rich Rose and assistant scenic designer, Mateo Rudich, which is enhanced by the excellent lighting design by Andrew Schmedake. Props are by Lori Berg; sound design is by Warren Davis; costumes are by Paula Higgins; and Richard Soto is the fight director. The stage is managed by the capable Shawna Voragen, assisted by Katie Lee Merritt.
A Body of Water, produced by Crystal Jackson for Actors Co-op, continues through March 15 in the The Crossley Theatre, 1760 North Gower Street in Hollywood.