Note: Playwright Lee Blessing participates in a talkback after this Sunday’s matinee performance of A Body of Water. See endnote for ticket link.
In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s weatherman character is forced to relive the same day over and over. A sort of Groundhog Day for intellectuals, A Body of Water factors in a mysterious form of amnesia that has affected the two people, Avis and Moss (Treva Tegtmeier and Bruce Ladd), who awaken each morning to find themselves unaware of their own identities, much less the identity of the other with whom they share a bed.
Existential with a touch of the absurd, A Body of Water hints at the works of Sartre, Ionesco and other theater experiences that trap characters together and leave their audiences feeling off-kilter. It starts out like a comic mystery with a solution on the horizon and ends with that horizon receding.
When A Body of Water premiered 15 years ago, it wrapped up neatly. Playwright Lee Blessing has rewritten the play’s ending and this new production at the Actors Co-Op is its world premiere. The result is a play that leaves you unsure if you’ve figured it all out – not unlike life. You think at first you’ll be able to get a handle on the pair, who may or may not be a couple. Then you begin to doubt it. When a third character, Wren (Ivy Beech), who may or may not be their daughter, enters, hope rises again. But at the end, no single answer seems satisfying.
There’s plenty to think about along the way. What is identity? How important is memory in creating identity? Is memory fluid, like the body of water surrounding the couple’s house? If you don’t remember your past, are you doomed to repeat it? What forms does love take over many years together? Answers are hinted at, but ultimately audience members must reach their own conclusions.
The theater’s seats surround the action on four sides, much like the body of water in the title. The use of white for the furniture and much of the clothing adds an ethereal touch, as though the living room is floating in the clouds. All props (no pun intended) to Scenic Designer Rich Rose and Costume Designer Paula Higgins, as well as Lighting and Sound Design by Andrew Schmedake and Warren Davis, respectively. The actual props, which include a number of birds, are cleverly designed by Lori Berg. Under director Nan McNamara’s skilled guidance, the talented cast builds their characters both as independent and intimately entwined.
Lee Blessing’s 1988 play A Walk in the Woods was staged last year at the UCLA School of Theater’s James Bridges Theater. It’s a fascinating piece about two arms negotiators, an American and Russian, looking for compromise in the Swiss woods. Like it, A Body of Water has witty dialogue and a complex structure.
A Body of Water runs at the Actors Co-Op’s Crossley Theatre, 1760 N. Gower, through March 15. Playwright Lee Blessing will participate in talkbacks after the matinees on Sundays February 16, March 8 and March 15.Tickets are $25 (students), $30 (seniors) and $35 (general public) and are available here.