Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 14, 2009

A Body of Water

Chester Theatre Company, Chester MA
through August 23, 2009
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

"A Body of Water" is a skillfully written series of, perhaps, hypothetical possibilities that congeal into a divisive play. As directed by Stephen Hollis, the production holds together in spite of one mind tease after another that spins rational thought off into space. At times, the play serves as an example of what amnesia is like or, even worse, the shrinking brain of an Alzheimer patient. However, with amnesia, new memories can be created; with Alzheimer's, chunks of memory fall away like melting glaciers.

Played against one of CTC's most attractive sets - designed by Sean Cote, the livingroom of a summer home, ringed with trees, that overlooks a lake - the play's beginning suggests one of those wacky, romantic comedies of Hollywood's "golden age." Say, Carole Lombard and Melvyn Douglas with monstrous morning-after hangovers awaken, naked. They have no clue who the other person is, and the romp is on. However, in Lee Blessing's play, they also do not know their own identity. They pose tentative questions, even flirt a little, but as the questions begat more questions, their frustration approaches panic. Enter a take-charge young woman bearing bagels and reprimands because, she alleges, the bewildered middle age couple wrapped in shower robes are where they were yesterday and uncounted days before - no clue as to who they are. She has a name, Wren. She produces their wallets so they can know their names - Avis and Moss. Does this help? Well, it depends upon what your definition of "help" is.

Through every segue of this bedeviling play, the actors persuade the audience to absorb "what you see is what you get." As Avis, Debra Jo Rupp extracts irony out of despair. Her comedic timing is refreshing. Tuck Milligan is Moss, perhaps a former judge, who finds Avis sexually attractive, but otherwise he's ready to shuffle in slippers. Julia Coffey's Wren is not a sympathetic character. She compounds the confusion with malevolence or is she being kind?

"A Body of Water" wraps up CTC's 20th anniversary season which true to Artistic Director Byam Stevens' code has mounted sterling productions of provocative scripts that shake up conventional definitions of what constitutes entertainment.