Samantha Soule and Troy Deutsch in Lake Water
(© Hunter Canning)
Samantha Soule and Troy Deutsch in Lake Water
(© Hunter Canning)
Playwright Troy Deutsch serves up a discomfiting look at an angst-filled evening shared by two teenagers in his new play Lake Water, running at IRT Theatre. Directed with care by Dan Talbott, the piece can prove touchingly insightful, but also painfully maudlin, as it slowly reveals the depths of the young people's despair and dissatisfaction that they feel with their lives in a small, rural Minnesota town.

From the start of the 75-minute play, there is a spiky antagonism between James (played by playwright Deutsch) and Iris (Samantha Soule). She's none too happy about having been summoned via frantic voicemail to the deserted dock (handsomely realized by scenic designer Eugenia Furneaux-Arends) by her friend since grade school.

As they joke, though, the warmth and genuine affection that these two share for one another becomes apparent. So, too, do the rifts that have arisen between them -- principally because of the suicide of their best friend, Hilary, as James believes that Iris might have been able to prevent the other girl's death.

As playwright, Deutsch has written dialogue that crackles with the terse, staccato rhythms of youth, even as it strains for lyricism that's filled with symbolism, such as when Iris describes the debris and detritus that lies at the bottom of the polluted lake. Similarly, Deutsch overcrams his relatively brief play with a litany of troubles (her weight issues and his problems with bullies) for the characters and underdeveloped tangents. Particularly troublesome is the note which James reveals from a secret hiding spot the two have shared. It is never clear if he is showing Iris Hilary's suicide note or a message that he's written himself.

Despite the problematic writing, Deutsch and Soule deliver remarkably powerful performances. She captures not only Iris' teenage hauteur but also the character's extreme shyness and awkwardness. Even more impressive are the sly ways in which Soule traverses Iris' wildly swinging emotions toward James, particularly as stern, disgruntled frowns give way to glowing smiles.

Deutsch's turn as the highly strung James is equally compelling. Not only is it fascinating to watch the subtle ways in which he brings the character's anxious grief silently to life while he is alone onstage before the production begins in earnest, it's also intriguing to see how he communicates the young man's deeply felt fondness for Iris, even when he is railing against her (along with what he perceives as slights in their friendship), and the iniquities of -- and ennui induced by -- life in their tiny town.

Moodily lit by Brad Peterson, and featuring a haunting soundscape from Janie Bullard, the show builds to a somewhat unsurprising revelation from James, before settling into a final tableau, that, though equally predictable, has a curious resonance that lingers.