"pool (no water)" Ambitiously Treads in Abstraction

Some groups of friends live together, breathe together, and succeed together. But what happens when only one succeeds? This was the subject explored in “pool (no water)” which played in Adams Pool Theater last weekend. Written by British playwright Mark Ravenhill, the play centers on a group of four artists and their former partner—referred to by the other characters as “She”—who breaks away and finds success. The drama begins in a hospital with the four friends taking care of the injured but never-present fifth member of the group. Soon “She” becomes a perversion of an art project as the four artists, consumed by jealousy and resentment, exploit her condition for their own benefits. Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club’s production of “pool (no water)” is for the most part thought-provoking and unsettling in its display of uncensored emotion, although at times it stumbles in the face of its own grandiosity.

Written as one long monologue and divided up into individual lines by the actors, the play’s life is very much dependent on the choices of director Joshua R. McTaggart ’13, a Crimson arts editor. His clever use of space and props bring an extra dimension to the production by toying with and parodying the idea of self-reflective art. The audience sits on the stage while the actors perform above them in the rows of seats. What has become the stage is sparse, with only a black tarp, window, and a film projector. This minimalist attitude and inversion of a traditional stage setup makes it very apparent that the characters in the play, who are never named, are very conscious that they are creating a work of art, twisted and self-indulgent. It is art within art, and the result is both frustrating and satisfying.

Yet, at times, the production’s quest for that extra dimension comes off heavy-handed and overwrought, which contrasts with the otherwise subtle nature of McTaggart’s directorial choices. The characters film themselves throughout the play as if making a pseudo-documentary, with their images shown on the projection above. The use of the camera is successful most of the time and contributes to the concept of art within art. However, occasionally the camera use is overdone; it came up too often in moments when the characters were trying to convey emotions, or without any apparent pattern. Many times, though, McTaggart gets it right, to wondrous results—there is one scene in which the actors used the microphone wire as an IV when manipulating their friend’s body to take an unattractive photo. Because this fifth friend is never played by any actor and instead fleshed out by the words of the other four, scenes like these help define the relationships between the five. The result is startling, and it’s thanks to these smaller, unexpected choices that the more self-conscious artistic choices, like the camera, are balanced out.

The actors are given the challenging task of bringing the play to life through the movement and rhythm of their speech, and they achieve this with varying degrees of success. The ensemble, consisting of Alistair A. Debling ’16, Anna A. Hagen ’15, John L. Pizzato ’16, and Sara K. Rosenburg ’16, is able to develop and retain the feeling of self-loathing and franticness that bubbles under the surface of their characters. The rhythm of their words is particularly powerful when the group attempts to destroy the friend’s next art project by deleting photos while chanting “select and delete” at a crescendo. The actors display an emotional vulnerability through the beat of their words and frustration with their predicament.

There is a sense that there are no distinctive characters in “pool (no water),” but rather fragments and pieces of one; it is up to each actor to decide how to parse the script so that individual characters emerge from the undifferentiated body of the text. The actors’ movement, however, feels too unwieldy and heavy at times, breaking the illusion that the actors move as one. They do not retain the same smooth, clean lines, and therefore the cohesion of the group is shattered by the disjointed physicality. There are scenes that call for a seamless connection of their bodies to express the codependency of its actors. Sometimes their movements fall flat, the tension and awkwardness evident. Separately, though, the actors put on a fine show, moving their bodies with a tightness that is appropriate for their characters.

The fantastic script of “pool (no water)” brings the show together; it is witty and darkly introspective in a way that can hide some of the minor deficiencies of the production. Despite some of the faults, the production is a worthy, if ambitious, performance thanks to its director and the passionate actors. There are real moments of unrelenting emotion that surprises the audience with its ferocity, though there are occasional bouts of inconsistency.

—Staff writer Neha Mehrotra can be reached at nehamehrotra@college.harvard.edu.

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