Barney O'Hanlon, Ellen Lauren and Stephen Duff Webber
in Freshwater
(© Carol Rosegg)
Barney O'Hanlon, Ellen Lauren and Stephen Duff Webber
in Freshwater
(© Carol Rosegg)
Fart jokes? Mooning? Surely these actions are not what Virginia Woolf had in mind in 1923 when she devised Freshwater, a little amateur theatrical for her Bloomsbury buddies to put on. True, her script for the farce, now playing at the Women's Project, has its naughty bits (a double-entendre allusion to a wet dream, for instance); but director Anne Bogart and her SITI Company have pushed the puerility up several notches, achieving a Three Stooges-level of crude inanity, rather than trusting the text to yield sufficient humor.

Moreover, what was obviously just a playlet has been padded with all sorts of extraneous unfunny business in order to stretch out the evening's "entertainment" to an hour. Indeed, it takes 10 minutes for the maid Mary Magdalen (Akiko Aizawa, looking alternately flirtatious and fierce) to conduct a head count of the audience, twice. Meanwhile, the unseen players -- judging from the aural evidence -- fend off buzzing flies and exhort one another to get ready.

After an amuse-bouche of a music hall song ("All the nice girls love a sailor"), the curtain finally parts to reveal Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron (a stentorian Ellen Lauren) sponge-shampooing her husband, the philosopher Charles Hay Cameron (Tom Nelis), in preparation for a trip for India. All they're awaiting is the delivery of their coffins; fearing the predatory nature of ants, Mrs. Cameron won't set forth without a secure resting place.

Sharing the drawing room -- turned into a sort of human-scale terrarium by set designer James Schuette's grass-green strokes -- are the painter George Frederick Watts (Barney O'Hanlon), his child-bride muse Ellen Terry (Kelly Maurer, rather older than the role calls for), and the exalted poet Alfred Lord Tennyson (Stephen Duff Webber). Tennyson also has the hots for the "beautiful wench" -- he tries to entice her by boasting that he has "thighs like alabaster" -- but he's mostly enamored of his own deathless prose.

Meanwhile, the closest thing to an actual plotline is Terry's mounting impatience with the deadly-dull circle among which she finds herself entrenched. But it's pretty much impossible not to interpolate into the ingenue's disillusionment the specter of Woolf's own ultimately fatal ennui.

In the end, a production that honored Woolf's actual comedic accomplishment without burying it in over-the-top clowning would make for a more appropriate -- not to mention more enjoyable -- homage than this one.