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A Body of Water

Lee Blessing's maddeningly enigmatic play will leave audiences wondering what they saw.

Michael Cristofer and Christine Lahti
in A Body of Water
(© James Leynse)
Neil Patel's set for Lee Blessing's irritating A Body of Water, now making its New York premiere at Primary Stages, is a summer-house living room overlooking a large lake surrounded by lush foliage. The Edenic view is represented by three huge and captivating Timothy Arzt paintings -- one upstage, one stage left, one stage right -- that look like something Henri Rousseau might have rendered as the 20th Century got underway. You look at it and wish you had a wall at home to accommodate at least one of the soothing works. The only trouble is they're forced to serve as backdrops to Blessing's maddeningly enigmatic 90-minute play.

It's hard to know what the dramatist was thinking as he began the play in 2003 and forged on through a few previous versions to its current conclusion, and even harder to know what to think as one staggers from the theater, trying to figure out what has just been witnessed. Even if one believes that leaving interpretation open to audiences is a valid function of contemporary theater, in this case, it simply isn't valid.

When Jeff Croiter's sunny-weather lights rise, Moss (Michael Cristofer) and Avis (Christine Lahti) -- wearing luxurious robes costumer Candice Donnelly supplied -- are awkwardly conversing. That's because they don't know who each other are. Worse, they don't know who they themselves are. They're further embarrassed at having awakened in the same bed, one of his hands on one of her breasts.

After speculating for what seems like hours and coming up with the supposition they might be a married couple, a young woman calling herself Wren (Odeh) bolts into their midst. Telling them she's been conducting this grilling and drilling for weeks and years, she hands him a wallet and her a handbag, as well as couple of possible answers as to who they are. One is that she is, as they suspected, their daughter; the other is that she is a defense lawyer trying to get to the bottom of a young girl's murder and Avis and Moss are the girl's parents and also the prime suspects. Wren has a couple other questionable revelations up her sleeve that leave Avis and Moss even more befuddled and ticket-buyers in the same addled state.

Admittedly, A Body of Water could be a metaphor for parents and children never knowing who the other is or it could be a metaphor for the evanescence of memory. Luckily, the three actors and director Maria Mileaf behave as if they absolutely know what they're doing. They're also to be commended for not breaking up when one of them utters -- in another context -- "It all sounds so surreal." It sure does!

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