Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Body of Water

If you like your mysteries resolved at the end, skip this show. If you’re content with an edgy drama that keeps throwing you a curve ball and leaves you wondering, you’ll love Primary Stages’ New York premiere of A Body of Water by Lee Blessing. 

I don’t usually like mysteries, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one. The ensemble acting is excellent and director Maria Mileaf keeps the action popping.

The plot revolves around a middle-aged woman (Christine Lahti) and middle-aged man (Michael Cristofer) who wake one morning in a summer house and don’t know who they are or where they are. This device starts out funny as they try to figure out their identities and if they are married to each other. In attempting to answer the second question they decide to take peeks at each other naked to see if any physical element jogs their memories. Nothing does. (No nudity is shown; they open their bathrobes to one another with their backs to the audience.)

The tone shifts after they hear someone at the door. “Go see who it is,” the woman says. “I don’t even know who we are,” the man replies. But when it turns out to be a young woman (Laura Odeh) who may or may not be their daughter, the plot darkens. The mind-bending scenarios she suggests include the possibility that they murdered an 11-year-old child of theirs and even that one of them is really dead and the other is hallucinating the partner’s reality.

The play stirs up larger questions, mainly do we exist without our memories? The atmosphere is enhanced by Neil Patel’s set, a cozy living room surrounded by windows on three sides with views of water -- a body of water. The feeling of isolation is perfect for the haunting drama that unfolds.

A Body of Water plays for a limited run through Sunday, Nov. 16 at 59E59 Theaters. For tickets, call (212) 279-4200 or visit the company's web site at primarystages.org.

Lee Blessing is the author of such notable plays as the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize nominated A Walk in the Woods and Going to St. Ives, which won an Outer Critics Circle Award. In an interview for Primary Stages he had this to say about A Body of Water: “We can decide all we want that we have resolved the riddle of life and worked out what the meaning of life is, but we will never have any empirical evidence that we are correct. I think this play is a little more in the service of the concept that we’ll never know. We can presume a lot of things, but we never really know anything. So, this play takes that last phrase literally.”

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