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|Written by Kevin Johns|
|Sunday, 10 May 2009 19:32|
In pool (no water), which made its Canadian premiere on Thursday, May 8, at the Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre’s studio theatre, four artists (bitter and jealous that a former friend's artwork has proven far more successful than their own) reluctantly attend a party, where their erstwhile friend dives into a swimming pool, unaware that it has been emptied of water. With her broken body lying unmoving in a hospital bed, the group recognizes the accident as an opportunity for a new art project – one that pushes the boundaries of ethics and friendship.
Rather than a traditional collection of dialogue-focused scenes, the story unfolds as a sort of past-tense narrative poem, with all four nameless characters (barefoot and dressed in matching drab grey) becoming a singular interchangeable voice, save for when they transform into the successful and unfortunately injured artist by draping a colourful scarf around their shoulders. Timelines blur together, and the characters move in and out of events that they recollect in discourse aimed more often at audience members than each other.
The play is the result of collaboration between British playwright Mark Ravenhill and Frantic Assembly (England's premier physical theatre company), and the original British production focused heavily on dance and the movement of characters across a large stage. Evolution Theatre was therefore faced with a challenge in their production of the play, for the GCTC’s studio theatre provides hardly enough room for simple movements, let alone intricate dance. In an interesting solution to the limited space available, the performance area is organized so as to split the audience in two, creating a sort of opposing stadium style seating with a boxed off ‘pool’ for performance in-between.
Potential audience members concerned this approach may produce negative sightlines need not worry, for director/performer Christopher Bedford makes excellent use of the limited space at hand. The audience somehow never feels as though they are looking at an actor’s back, despite the way the thespians spin about the stage in a steady flow of movement. The reduced scale offers a unique intimacy. When an actor drops to the floor in a dramatic flourish, the resulting slap is a physical experience for the audience as well. Bodies pile atop each other emphasizing the character’s unity and singular voice, while also evoking a curious sexuality that might have been missing had the play been performed on a larger stage. pool (no water) is filled with uncomfortable ideas and the studio theatre allows the performers to practically drop these ideas into the audience’s lap.
There would seem to be a fair amount of self-indulgence involved in a troupe of struggling artists performing a play about a group of struggling artists, but conflating Evolution Theatre performers Jerome Bourgault, Kel Parsons, Kate Smith and Christopher Bedford with the artists they portray is difficult - partially because the play’s references to heroin babies and bohemia seem so very far removed from life in Ottawa, and partially because as the play unfolds it reveals itself to be suspicious and critical of the character’s behaviour, the art they produce, and, most of all, the motivations behind that art.
In fact, in a strangely paradoxical twist, the play seems harshly critical of the very sort of art it is itself evoking. From its post-modern title (with mandatory brackets and quirky grammatical word play), to the interchangeable nameless characters and absentee victim, the production screams “modern art!”, and yet the modern art project untaken by the play’s characters (a series of unsolicited photographs with their friend’s battered and unconscious body) is depicted as being highly immoral, deeply unethical, and ultimately vapid. Rather than deal with their jealousy, or acknowledge sympathy for their injured friend, the characters ignore their emotions and instead funnel their confusion into art.
Since one assumes Ravenhill (a politically engaged playwright) views art as socially valuable tool, it would seem that he draws a line somewhere between the play’s artifice and the morally questionable art that the play’s characters produce. Yet in its very nature (modern/edgy theatre) there seems to be more similarities between the art produced within the play and the play itself, than there are differences.
Common sense suggests the artists who created this production (from Ravenhill to Bedford) believe that art is a beautiful and wonderful thing that helps humanity to deal with life’s joys and disappointments (why else would they take on the supreme undertaking involved in creating theatrical productions?), and yet what they have produced is a work about ethically ugly and shallow people doing ethically ugly and shallow things in the name of art. It is a strange paradox, one which fails to resolve itself by the end of the narrative.
(pool) no water is an uncomfortable play to watch. There are no easy answers, and no real glimmer of hope is offered. The audience is left grappling with the troubling implications of the narrative, and while this doesn’t make for an easy evening of theatre going, it is certainly the makings of an intellectually stimulating one.
Tickets for Evolution Theatre’s (pool) no water at The
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