Regional Reviews: New Jersey
A Body of Water: An Entertaining Puzzle
Also see Bob's review of THIS
A man and a woman, both middle aged, awaken one morning to find themselves in a handsome summer home. The property is surrounded by a body of water. They have no memory of who they are, whether or not they have previously met, or how they got onto the island. They don't even know if the handsome bathrobes they are wearing belong to them. Each has a random memory of a past event: His concerns his mother and hers is about a college boyfriend, but their attempts to find clues to their identities and situation lead them nowhere.
After the pair have dressed for the day, a peremptory young women enters offering breakfast. Is she a caregiver? Either or both's daughter? CIA? Do they wake up like this every day? The young woman's name is Wren. There is an edge to her. She seems annoyed by the burdens imposed on her by the hapless pair. Wren tells them that they (he in a wallet, she a purse) have identification in their bedroom. They discover that his name is Moss and hers is Avis. They each have different surnames, but the same address.
Step by step, Wren reveals the mystery. Five months earlier, Moss and Avis called 911 to report their 11-year-old daughter Robin missing. Two months ago, Robin's body was found in the lake. She had been murdered. Cause of death: blunt force trauma. All of the evidence points to Moss and Avis as the perpetrators. There are no other suspects. No one believes their claim of memory loss. Wren is an investigator in the employ of their lawyers, trying to get them to recall the events in order to help them prepare a viable defense. Is this really true or is there another or additional truth? Are we watching a serious intellectual and/or existential play or are we in "Twilight Zone/Dead of Night" territory? Is there one truth to be ascertained or is the truth in the eye of the beholder?
It would be unfair to reveal the further twists and turns that it has in store. Suffice it to say that A Body of Water skillfully blends theatrical styles across a spectrum ranging from Harold Pinter and Edward Albee all the way to Agatha Christie and Val Lewton's classic horror movie Dead of Night.
Unlike the dark and menacing nihilistic works of Harold Pinter, Lee Blessing strives (successfully) to provide stimulating, accessible entertainment. Are weighty matters such as the unreliability of memory and the mechanisms we employ to cope with loss, betrayal and guilt part of the fabric here? Possibly. There are interpretations which would support such a view. However, whatever weighty matters are introduced, they are made part and parcel of the entertaining game that Blessing has designed for us.
How do actors create details when portraying characters whom the author denies them any self knowledge? Well, all the information at hand would indicate that they are well educated and well-off. Thus, combining her striking, stylish stage carriage and presence with a degree of haughty reserve, Heather Wahl brings three dimensional life to Avis. By way of contrast, Jerry Lazar is a more rough-hewn Moss. There is support for such an interpretation in the script, as Moss has them expose themselves to one another claiming that seeing the other's body might trigger memories in each of them.
In recent seasons, Jenelle Sosa has established herself as arguably New Jersey's finest young actress. Sosa is blessed with a soulfulness which she combines with her intuitive acting to enable her to imbue the enigmatic Wren with an arresting variety of colors. Sosa's strong performance led me to an interpretation of the play which would make Waiting for Wren an appropriate title for it.
Michael Bias clearly understands the game that is afoot for he has directed with a light touch, adroitly capturing the mind teasing tone of the play. Jasmine Vogue Pai has designed a commodious, classy summer home living room with a series of large windows which provide us with a full view of the surrounding grounds and lake. This background has been most attractively drawn by scenic painter Ian Gryner. The sets and background are enhanced by the effective lighting design of Amanda Clegg Lyon. Terry Thiry has provided classy dresses which reflect the level of the surroundings and hang perfectly on both Wahl and Sousa. Her Asian style bathrobe for Lazar is quite a show in and of itself.
Lee Blessing was nominated for a Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize for his A Walk in the Woods which had a 150 performance Broadway run in 1988. The Garage Theatre production of his clever and entertaining A Body of Water presents a good opportunity to either acquaint or reacquaint yourself with his work.
A Body of Water continues performances through November 14 (Thursday, Friday and Saturday 8 pm/ Sunday 3 pm) at the Garage Theatre Group in residence at the Becton Theatre on campus at Fairleigh Dickinson University, 960 River Road, Teaneck 07666. Online: www.garagetheatre.org; box office: 201-569-7710
A Body of Water by Lee Blessing; directed by Michael Bias