Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 25, 2024

REVIEW: Shakespeare and Company, “A Body of Water”

Shakespeare and Company, Lenox, MA
through July 21, 2024
by Jarice Hanson
As the Berkshire theater season begins, Shakespeare & Company (S&Co.) has opened its outdoor Roman Garden Theatre with a new twist on a script by the noted playwright, Lee Blessing. “A Body of Water” was originally produced in 2005 and was immediately compared to Ionescu’s “The Chairs” – an existential treatise on loneliness and alienation.
Photo by Ken Yotsukura
In this updated version of “A Body of Water,” two middle-aged people, Moss and Avis, awake in an unfamiliar house that is surrounded by water. The veranda of the house indicates comfort and the satisfaction of all creature needs, but something is wrong.  Moss and Avis don’t seem to know each other. Or do they?  As they seek to understand their identities and try to uncover the truth about their relationship, the water around the house ebbs and flows—changing all of the time, as does their sense of what is real and what is not.
The couple tries to find clues to their own identities and how they got to the house, when a young woman named Wren appears. Who is she? Why does she know them, and why is she so secretive? The play is described as a “comedic thriller” which is a pretty good description, that also leaves its audience with plenty of questions to ponder.
The couple are played by Bella Merlin (Avis) and Kevin O’Rourke (Moss), whose chemistry grows as they learn more about each other. As characters, both Merlin and O’Rourke are the real deal—they are natural, but complex; they speak like real people, but project their voices in this outdoor theatre, like the skilled actors they are. 
The young woman who stirs the pot of this pot-boiler is played by Caroline Calkins, a veteran of 10-years with S&Co. who looks to be the right age to be Moss and Avis’ daughter, adding to the unfolding mystery. Calkins is bubbly and energetic. She infuses the developing dynamics and drives the pace of this puzzle while charming each of the actors, and the audience.
This complex script would be hard to follow if it were not in the hands of a skilled director, James Warwick. His sense of playful mystery allows the humor to shine, while the undercurrent (pardon the water pun) is full of threat and secrecy. Warwick successfully directed the 2012 production of Blessing’s “A Walk in the Woods” at S&Co. a couple of years ago, and it is clear that he understands the layers of depth Blessing writes.
“A Body of Water” gives the audience plenty to think and talk about. The story is not neatly wrapped up, but that’s not important. The point of this play is to question who we are at various stages of our lives, and accept what we can, while never having all the answers. In this reflective production, audiences will have much to think about.