There aren’t many redeeming qualities to the mean-spirited, fame-conscious group of artists who compose the company of pool (no water), Mark Ravenhill’s 2006 choric play, which is currently being given its New York Premiere by One Year Lease Theatre company at 9th Space at P.S. 122.
The text of the play reads like a harrowing tone poem, without individual lines assigned to specific characters and with little to no attempt at individual character development. How to break the text up between the actors at hand is entirely up to the director (in this case Ianthe Demos), who does a merely serviceable job shaping this challenging piece.
The premise of the play is that five youngish artists have been invited to partake in the new pool their slightly more successful friend has just purchased. This friend has made a name for herself by exploiting the death (by AIDS) of another in their coterie, by using his bandages, used condoms, etc. in her art.
With the group gathered poolside, a tragic accident occurs: the pool’s owner, not realizing the water has been drained, dives in with abandon. The next thing they know, these five unsuspecting witnesses are tending to their friend (who has become more of a frenemy) at her bedside.
As the group finds in this moment of vulnerability an opportunity for revenge, Ravenhill’s play takes an even darker twist after the accident is introduced; exploitation and art meet head-on with highly dramatic results.
Though the ensemble here is fine all around (besides for occasional moments of distinction from Estelle Bajou, they’re mostly a satisfactorily cohesive if undistinguished bunch), Demos and her choreographer, Natalie Lomonte, and movement coordinator, Christopher Baker (also a cast member), take a somewhat unfocused approach to the piece.
Five white benches make up the whole of the set; as the play begins, projections suggest (falsely) that multimedia may be part of the production. Later, the benches are stacked and arranged in a variety of configurations — occasionally effectively, mostly less so — as a means of supplementing the production’s uninspired choreography, which features the sort of shoot-your-arms-out-fast-and-back-up moves you’d expect of an interpretive dance parody. Choreography here is an embellishment rather than a potent additive.
Bland, unmemorable music by Ms. Bajou (who, as cast member as well as composer, may have overextended herself), does little to move the piece along. For the original U.K. production, music was by Imogen Heap and co-direction was by Steven Hoggett (American Idiot, Once). With these names floating in my head, and given the play’s incisive text by Ravenhill, I find myself daydreaming in hindsight about just how exciting this production could have been. Unfortunately, what’s here is an admirable attempt that ultimately comes up short of its potential.