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Ray on the Water

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Reality television shows may not be quite as hot now as they used to be, but they're still fairly common on the airwaves. Ray on the Water, Edward Allan Baker's new play at HERE, deals at least partially with the reality television craze, and partially with real reality, though whether or not what happens inside the theater looks much like what happens outside is open to debate.

That reality involves the tiny town of Peacedale, a northeast hamlet where just about everyone knows everyone else, but secrets remain the order of the day. It's even worse inside the garage of Cee-Cee (Suzanne Di Donna) where she and her employees are fighting against impatient customers and a mysterious thick fog to get the newspaper out on time. That quest must eventually be abandoned when the delivery driver Guy (Bruce MacVittie) arrives with a surprise: Natalie (Kirsten Russell), trapped in town because of the fog, has the job of discovering and pitching shows to the big networks for development and thinks she has found exactly what she's been looking for.

Her plan is to turn the cameras on Cee-Cee's operation with the hopes of bringing out the "truth" inside them. Given the complex set of relationships and histories of Cee-Cee, Guy, and the other two workers Nora (Jessica Alexander) and Trude (Georgia Strauss), she's certain she can find something workable in their stories. She and her crew (Jay Veduccio and Stephen Zacks) set up their cameras and let the "reality" fly. This is, of course, provided for the audience's examination or approval courtesy of two television monitors mounted on the ceiling that display what any of the three cameras is recording at any point.

Baker has gone to such great lengths to make his characters unique, he forgot to make them interesting. Hearing the characters' descriptions of their complex pasts or relationships is all well and good, but it almost never informs their actions. In addition, we see too little of the way they react to each other before the cameras are turned on to make their behavior in front of the cameras really resonate.

In addition, the elaborate technical setup and intriguing possibilities never really pay off. The play gives each of its characters a chance to speak his or her mind and then stops. But it never concludes, the impact of these events on the characters lives are never felt. Since we never get the chance to really know them, this is perhaps understandable, but it's far from satisfying.

The actors, though, give it their all, and their performances are likable and enjoyable to watch. Russell is the strongest of the bunch, commanding with her almost clinical demeanor and florid descriptions of the emotions and truth she hopes to reveal through her work. Everyone, however, contributes to the small town fabric of the play, giving charming understated and real performances that only feel fake when the speeches pile on too thick.

Director Ed Bianchi has done everything possible to make the silly and occasionally meandering script work, but there are too many ideas and not enough dramatic payoffs. Nevertheless, there is a germ of a fascinating idea here, and a melding of theatre and reality television seems natural enough to result in an entertaining, incisive, and thought-provoking show. Sadly, Ray on the Water is not quite it.

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Ray on the Water
Through October 20
HERE Arts Center, 145 6th Avenue between Spring and Broome
Schedule and Tickets: (212) 647-0202