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A Body of Water

a Drama
CATEGORY : DRAMA
by Lee Blessing

COMPANY : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
ID# 4216

SHOWING : January 19, 2012 - February 12, 2012

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

It is a beautiful summer morning as Avis and Moss wake up in a handsomely appointed cottage surrounded by water on all sides. Everything is a mystery, because the pair has no recollection of who they are or how they got there. Has Wren, an enigmatic young woman, come to help unfold the answers to these questions? If she does, do they really want to know the truth?


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Freddie Ashley
Moss Mark Kincaid
Avis Tess Malis Kincaid
Wren Cara Mantella
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REVIEWS

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In Memorium
by Dedalus
Monday, February 6, 2012
3.5
It’s very sobering reading on-line reviews of various productions of Lee Blessing’s “Body of Water.” Writers seem generally agreed that Mr. Blessing has created a “puzzle play” without “thinking through” the story or offering a clean resolution. I found nothing positive written about this play, and almost every writer talks about its shallowness and frustrating storyline.

Maybe I’m dimmer than other writers, but I did not find this piece frustrating or shallow. I found it be a superbly realized meditation on the nature of memory, and on the cruelties of power. A bit much? Let me explain.

Two people wake up in a house with no memory of who they are, of where they are, or of what brought them there. They seem to be in a luxurious house isolated by a surrounding body of water, with a local village within walking distance. As they try to jog their memories (Is this their home? Are they married? Do they even know each other?), they are soon joined by a young woman, Wren. Wren may be their daughter, their psychiatrist, their lawyer, or simply their caretaker. Since we see her from the point of view of the protagonists, we never know (because, well, duh, they never know).

What follows can only be called a psychodrama of cruelty, as Wren tells them differing stories on who they are and how they got there. At one moment, they are suspected of murdering their own daughter, and being isolated to determine if their memory loss is just a “dodge.” At another, they are victims of a suicide attempt gone wrong (Wren even produces an authentic looking note to support that story). At various times, the man is told the woman is dead, and the woman is told the man was never there.

One thing that is constant is that the main characters (called “Moss” and “Avis,” but that could be just as false as anything else they’re told) have problems with their memories – they wake up each day totally ignorant of their situation, and they often forget what they were told mere minutes before. Another thing that becomes obvious to us (if not to Moss and Avis) is that Wren is a consummate liar who seems to take an impious joy in the self-loathing horror her tales bring to the older couple.

What centers this play for me and makes it work are the character constants we see in the couple, the personality traits and whims that remain independent of memory and that arise in curious ways (Avis’ fascination with Moss’s anatomy, Moss’s sudden interest in sex and gardening, Avis’ horror at the photos of the murdered child, Moss’ sudden panic when left alone, their varying abilities at the minutiae of crossword puzzles, both characters’ indifference to Wren. These two come across as real people in an extremely unusual situation.

And, because the play is experienced totally from their point of view, it comes across as a “puzzle” play to those unwilling to engage.

Public mis-perception of the accuracy of memory is well-documented. Assured “eyewitness testimony” is constantly being discredited by more accurate DNA evidence, “suppressed memories” are usually found to be “created memories” of events that never occurred, and experiments have shown that most of what we remember is colored by our own wishes rather than being an accurate “videotape reconstruction” of events.

Here, we see two people acting as I suppose most of us would upon suddenly waking up with no sense of who or what we are. We see a young woman manipulating them, telling them stories they accept at face value, but which nevertheless turn out to be false (perhaps). And, because we know they’ll wake up tomorrow with no memory of what happened today, it’ll all start again. And, we’re left with the distinct message that who we are is far more than the sum of our memories, that memory may, in fact, be largely irrelevant to what makes us who we are.

Moss and Avis are played by real-life couple Mark and Tess Malis Kincaid, while Wren is played by Cara Mantella with an irritating nasal twang that made me dislike (or at least distrust) her from the first. Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay have created a breath-takingly beautiful set, an elegant living room with Cathedral-height floor-to-ceiling windows that shows us only a murky skyscape, often at odds with its dialogued description (they say “sunny blue skies,” we see folds of roiling grey). It’s too nice to be an institution, and that leads credence to the possibility that it is their home. And Freddie Ashley has directed it with his usually attention to detail and pace.

In the final analysis, your enjoyment of this play will depend on how much you trust memory, how much you believe it can be corrupted, how much you like the couple at its mercy, and how much tolerance you have for unresolved (irresolvable?) puzzles. I found it compelling (as I do all of Mr. Blessing’s work), and I hope some of you do too.

Unless of course, my own memory of the play has itself been totally corrupted by the Aurora PR machine.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)


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Impenetrable
by playgoer
Sunday, January 22, 2012
4.0
I knew what to expect when attending Aurora Theatre's "A Body of Water." I have read the play. I have seen the work of Tess Malis Kincaid, Mark Kincaid, and Cara Mantella at various professional venues in Atlanta. I have seen the results of Freddie Ashley's direction and of the work of most of the design crew. I'm afraid, though, that most of Aurora's audience had no idea what they were getting into.

"A Body of Water" is a highly evocative work, but it has no plot and no resolution of the situation underlying the play: Moss and Avis wake each morning with no recollection of who they are or why they have been in bed together. The entry of Wren, a younger woman, adds a number of possible scenarios, but none are fully explained or lead to any intellectual or emotional satisfaction. It's an impenetrable work, with no tidy tie-up of the many loose ends. At a position in Aurora's season usually filled by a whodunit, the lack of resolution may be more jarring to audiences than would be the case at another theatre.

The production, of course, is thoroughly professional. The acting of Tess Malis Kincaid is, as always, transcendent. The projection of Cara Mantella is, as always, excellent. Director Freddie Ashley has played to the strengths of his cast and of the script, creating a world that is as believable as the unbelievable premise of the show will allow.

The set design of Isabel & Moriah Curley-Clay is stunning. A platform seemingly floats above the stage, set with elegant black and white furnishings, beaded chandeliers above, and views of a stylized body of water through full-length windows upstage. The execution isn't quite the equal of the design, however. The wood of the set appears clearly to be stained pine rather than a more elegant wood, and the lighting by Mary Parker sometimes highlights the patchwork seams of the art deco-like designs on panels on either side of the stage. When the lighting is right, though, the set is breathtakingly elegant.

Costumes, also by Isabel & Moriah Curley-Clay, have their high and low points. Tess Malis Kincaid has lovely costumes throughout, but Cara Mantella is given athletic-type outfits that do nothing for her. The focus is more on the characters than on the costumes, though, and Ms. Mantella appears more comfortable in hers than do Moss and Avis in unfamiliar clothes they have found in a dresser. The costumes work in the context of the play more than they do in an aesthetic sense.

The sound design by Bobby Johnston includes a repetitive one-finger piano solo at the start and end of each act. I found it grating. The endless do-re-mi of the tune wasn't harmonized with enough variety to echo the situation of the play (each day starting the same, but developing differently).

The audience comes ready to laugh. There's a lot of humor in the initial set-up, and isolated laughter greets many of the possibly comic moments in the first part of the show. When a murder is introduced into the proceedings, though, the laughter disappears. At intermission, some of the audience disappears too. A little bit of four-letter language has probably offended some people, and the implied nudity underneath bathrobes might have made others uncomfortable. "A Body of Water" is an acclaimed new play, but Aurora audiences seem to take more warmly to more mainstream fare. This is a wonderful production of an intriguing play, but I'm not sure it's the best choice for Aurora's current season.
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