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April 16th, 2014 REBECCA JACOBSON | Theater
 

pool (no water) (Theatre Vertigo)

No lifeguard on duty.

perf_pool_4024SINK OR SWIM: Going off the deep end. - IMAGE: Gary Norman
Say a man dies of AIDS. Now say a friend collects his blood and bandages and condoms and catheters and makes them into art. Has this artist crossed the line between creation and exploitation? At what point does artwork, never mind its aesthetic value, become unethical? In friendship—particularly among artistically inclined chums—there’s a similarly delicate line between amity and antagonism. We celebrate our friends’ achievements, even as we scrutinize their talents and beat back our own envy and resentment.

And when these lines intersect in Mark Ravenhill’s pool (no water), it’s downright combustible. Ravenhill’s 2006 play, presented by Theatre Vertigo in a striking if occasionally shaky production, is written as a collective monologue. Lines in the script are not allocated to anyone, nor does Ravenhill specify the size of the ensemble. Stagings elsewhere have enlisted casts ranging from four to 11 actors; this production has seven, who deliver some lines singly and others in unison in a propulsive, pitter-patter style that’s like slam poetry with a malevolent bite. All bohemian artists, they’ve gathered at the posh digs of a friend who’s made it big—thanks to that aforementioned AIDS art. Played with serene detachment by Christy Bigelow, she’s a blond beauty in a red bikini who speaks in near-mythic terms about her swimming pool: dizzying promises of drug-fueled bliss, a dreamy pool boy, carefree skinny-dipping and, if you’re lucky, creative rebirth.

Instead, what happens in the pool—the walls of the itty-bitty Shoebox Theater evocatively painted as powder-blue tiles—is a freak accident that lands Bigelow’s character in a coma, her body a mangled canvas of ghastly bruises. In what seems to the others as just comeuppance, they begin photographing her wounds.

As if armed with an automatic rifle, Ravenhill takes aim at the modern urge to document everything and our instinct to pervert tragedy for our own creative ends, as well as the commodification of art. It’s a lot for a 70-minute one-act, but these actors, under Samantha Van Der Merwe’s direction, throw themselves at it. Sometimes literally—it’s a highly physical production punctuated by spasms of abstract movement. The choreography is a mixed bag: The flurry of photography in the hospital room is awkward, while a joylessly frenzied coke-and-sex binge strikes at our twisted reactions to grief. As for the performers, a few—such as Stephanie Cordell as a fiery-eyed hellion oozing dangerous sexual energy—commit fully. Others waver, seeming distracted as they make clumsy jabs at intensity. But in the moments when this group comes together, like a diabolical Greek chorus, this is a satisfying deep-end dive into a stew of adrenaline, narcissism and shame.


SEE IT: pool (no water) is at Shoebox Theater, 2110 SE 10th Ave., 306-0870. 7:30 pm Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 pm Sundays through May 10. $20.

 
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