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pool (no water)

Mark Ravenhill's new play about a group of friends revisiting a tragic experience is utterly engrossing.

Richard Saudek, Nick Flint, and Christopher Baker
in pool (no water)
(© Scott J. Fetterman)
A group of five friends revisit a time when they exploited the tragedy that had befallen a sixth member of their group to fuel their artistic ambitions in Mark Ravenhill's utterly engrossing and exceptionally incisive pool (no water), now playing at The 9th Street Space at P.S. 122 under Ianthe Demos' excellent direction.

This cutting and frequently disturbing story rivets from start to finish as it strips away at how envy, jealousy, and competitiveness can simultaneously undermine and exist alongside love and compassion.

Estelle Bajour, Christopher Baker, Nick Flint, Christina Bennett Lind, and Richard Saudek play the quintet of friends (never identified by name), who narrate their tale about a visit they pay to the palatial home of the one member of their group who has achieved phenomenal success in the art world.

On their first night at her home, a horrific accident occurs, leaving the hostess comatose and hospitalized. During her period of recovery, the friends decide to document her condition in photographs, going so far as to reposition her body and bed and anticipating the exhibition, catalogue, and sales, that they will generate from their work.

As the story unfolds -- with the performers speaking singly and in unison, almost like a kind of latter day Greek chorus -- the characters provide differing interpretations of their memories, motives, and even justifications, both in terms of their perceptions at the time the events are occurring and in hindsight.

This dual perspective of the events creates an intriguing puzzle for theatergoers, which is further enhanced by the accident victim's own history (her success has come from the creation of art that used the blood, bandages, catheter, and condoms of a mutual friend who died of AIDS). Intriguingly, too, she ultimately, participates in the project once she has regained consciousness, inspiring new levels of complicated feelings among her friends.

There's nothing terribly subtle about Ravenhill's tale, but his text -- a combination of bluntness, crassness and lyricism -- proves to be remarkably compelling, particularly given the passion of the ensemble. Moreover, each member of the cast shows a deft ability to navigate the piece's shifting perspectives along with precision in executing Natalie Lomonte's dance routines and Christopher Baker's stylized movement.

Scenic designer James Hunting has outfitted the stage with five large white benches that the performers use to define space and also occasionally rearrange to almost sculptural effect, never flagging in its intensity or stylishness. Lighting designer Mark Riggs bathes the space in a vast variety of colors to exceptional effect and Scott J. Fetterman's abstract video design often proves to be exceedingly creepy, much like Ravenhill's tale itself.