Artists or People: Mark Ravenhill's pool (no water)

I have seen many a play that makes fun of pretentious artists and the balance of "art" and "humanity" in an artist's life. This discussion is again taken up in One Year Lease Theater Company's production of Mark Ravenhill's new play pool (no water), where one character says, "we are artists -- no, we're people." In this darkly funny play about collective memory, expected emotions, and artistic jealousy there is a great deal insightful probing of humanity without the hopelessness sometimes attached to this topic.

Upon entering 9th Space, the stage is set with five white benches standing up with their seats providing screens onto which the five faces of the actors are projected. The actors themselves stretch and warm up on the downstage of these set pieces, designed by James Hunting. The five actors will utilize these white benches throughout the piece, moving, stacking, and turning them to change the space.

I am hesitant to use the word "character" because, though there are obviously characters present on stage, the play itself is devoid of traditional dialogue. Instead there is one singular narrative that Director Ianthe Demos has chosen to express with five characters (there is no specific number of actors indicated in the script, though there is clearly a group), collaboratively telling a tale about a character we never actually see.

This spectral presence is another member of this group of artists bodily represented by the characters, though each actor steps in to play this sixth body when she is needed. This individual has achieved success, the physical symbol of which is her beautiful pool, which she invites them all to see and experience. Here, and even more so after an unfortunate accident, the characters struggle between their love for their friend and their extreme resentment and jealousy at her having "made it" while the rest of them struggle with their art and drug habits.

Though this might sound depressing, Ravenhill's writing illuminates the humor in knowing how we should react, but not feeling emotionally motivated to do so. As opposed to a writer like Neil LaBute, who has also explored a similar topic in The Shape of Things, Ravenhill's characters seem more concerned by their lack of emotion, and the tone is altogether more hopeful.

Actors Estelle Bajou, Christopher Baker, Nick Flint, Christina Bennett Lind, and Richard Saudek are all excellent at not only bringing a humanity and honesty to these complex characters, but also at Natalie Lomonte's choreography. The movement that accompanies the narrative adds to the themes of memory and storytelling, where events take on symbolic aspects, or heightened expression.

I must take a second here to say that there was a slight set malfunction the night that I saw the show, and though I would not normally mention such a thing, I do so here because it proved to me how good this production is. First of all, I was so engrossed in the story, that for several seconds I did not realize anything had gone wrong. After it was ascertained that everyone was all right, the show continued without missing a beat. A special commendation goes out to Christina Bennett Lind here, whose "the show must go on" attitude was truly astounding here.

This piece made me laugh, cringe, and think a great deal in a mere sixty minutes. It is a heavy topic, and certainly not one to bring the children to, but if you want to see an excellent group character study, go see pool (no water), whether you are an artist, a person, or both.