Some of the best artists in the world have been utterly ruthless about betraying their friends and families in search of more dramatic, truthful art. They can be equally ruthless in the way they live their lives.
Judging from Mark Ravenhill’s “pool (no water)," bad artists can be equally ruthless. And maybe, one can infer from Ravenhill, the rest of us aren’t far behind? The milk of human kindness does not flow easily, if at all, from the pores of the characters of the iconoclastic British author of “Shopping and [The Verb That Dare Not Speak Its Name].”
The f word has largely been superseded by the c word in this 2006 play brought to Oberon by New York’s One Year Lease Theater Company, a troupe with a raw, stripped-down aesthetic that makes for riveting theater to judge from this production. Cheers to the American Repertory Theater for bringing them, though the brief run (through Saturday) doesn’t have many tickets left. Saturday afternoon is your best bet.
The five actors are warming up (a bit too long) as we walk in, the stage set up in a more proscenium style than usual at Oberon, the A.R.T.’s second space. This is not immersive theater, though by the end of the 60 minutes you might feel that you’ve been drawn in to a conspiracy you won’t be proud to be part of.
The quintet of artists flashes back to an incident that was a gamechanger some years ago. A sixth member of the posse, the only one to achieve commercial and critical success, invited them out to fly out to her exotic new home and convinced them to go skinny dipping in her pool. It turned out not to be such a good idea for the hostess with the mostest.
While the plot is full of nasty twists and turns, it’s the presentation that’s attention-grabbing. On a bare stage, save for five white tables, the five fine actors all but dance their parts, sometimes moving as one, at other times sitting or standing together with hilarious poses – often suggesting false concern about their host’s plight.
Here's how it looked in New York with a slightly different cast, though three of them are in this production.
The general sense is that try as they might (or might not) to give in to their animal instincts, they’re enjoying seeing her fight for life. And we kind of enjoy their enjoyment – at least I did. They are mostly poseurs. In their ripped jeans, flannel shirts and Converse sneakers, they are a pretty laughable posse.
Any connection they might have to the rest of us is purely – intentional? “Pool (no water)” is the flipside of the self-congratulatory “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” The grumbles coming from the surprisingly older audience on the way out on opening night made it clear this isn’t for everyone.
I’m a Ravenhill fan, though, having seen "Shopping" and "Some Explicit Polaroids." I love his take-no-prisoners approach to how he sees the human condition, whether it’s the same way I see it or not. In this case not so much. It’s a little too easily misanthropic.
That said, the degree of difficulty in the style of the play, both in terms of Ravenhill’s writing and the performers’ agility, is engagingly high. Danielle Fauteux Jacques’ Apollinaire Theatre Company has been a champion of Ravenhill’s — it did an earlier production of “pool.” Anytime A.R.T. or anyone else wants to bring Ravenill or One Year Lease Theater Company back, I’m there.