Mark Ravenhill’s pool (no water) is the sort of play that isn’t often produced in South Florida, a place where conventional theater forms rule.
But Fort Lauderdale’s Thinking Cap Theatre and founder-artistic director Nicole Stodard are all about risk-taking and artistic challenges. So the fact that Thinking Cap is launching its 2014 season with pool (no water) is impressive — the play is quite challenging for a director, actors and audiences — but hardly a surprise.
Like Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis (produced locally by The Naked Stage in 2008), the script for pool (no water) serves as a road map, a jumping-off point for a director’s creativity. A kind of long monologue for multiple actors, it doesn’t assign lines to characters. The play has been performed by as few as four actors and as many as 15. Thinking Cap’s new production in a dance studio at the Muse Center for the Arts features a cast of seven.
Best known in the United States for his controversial hit Shopping and F**king, the British Ravenhill turns his attention to art, artists and envy in pool (no water). The play focuses on a group of artists who met and became friends at school. Two are gone: Ray, who lost his life to AIDS, and Sally, whose death from breast cancer is depicted in the play.
One of the artists, though, has made it big — very big. Winning acclaim and acquiring wealth from work that incorporated vivid evidence from the dying Ray’s final days, she is living large in Los Angeles, in a house with a staff and an inviting pool. When their famous pal suggests a reunion at her home, her still-struggling friends head west, only to plunge into a metaphorical pool of rampaging envy.
The aftermath of a terrible accident proves revelatory and irresistible. Exploitation makes for a series of not-so-pretty but potentially lucrative and reputation-making pictures. But when the accident victim appears ready to appropriate the evidence of her suffering, that roiling green envy on the part of her “friends” surges, turning into a destructive statement about the character-challenged artists.
Thinking Cap’s actors — Miles Alexander, Hannah Citrin, Casey Dressler, Niki Fridh, Noah Levine, Desiree Mora and Scott Douglas Wilson — have their own challenges, as no one is playing a single character with a clear arc. They speak individually, briefly inhabit a character, shift into another one, recite certain lines in unison.
While the hour-long story is specific, its telling is fluid and abstract, requiring more from the actors and a concentrating audience. This is an ensemble piece, but you will notice and appreciate particularly vivid moments created by Wilson, Levine and Fridh.
Certainly, pool (no water) isn’t every theatergoer’s cup of tea. But those intrigued by boundary-stretching, intellectually provocative drama may find themselves intrigued by Stodard’s solution to Ravenhill’s puzzle.