“It’s not enough that I succeed. My best friend must fail.” — La Rochefoucauld
“Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.” — Gore Vidal
One thing you can definitely say about the eye and ear-catching titles of British playwright Mark Ravenhill’s plays; that—like the language his characters use—they are lean, mean, and always to the point. And sometimes, like his London hit play, Shopping and Fucking (1996), reviewed by the New York Times under the title Shopping and ****ing when it opened at the New York Theatre Workshop in 1998, unprintable. The homoerotic play had successful runs in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Austin, Texas, to name a few venues, depicting the wasteful lives of young adults addicted to heroin, sex, money, and abusive relationships, while foul language and simulated sex dotted the stage. artes fine arts magazine
Ravenhill returned to our shores in 2010 with A Life in Three Acts at St Anne’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, where he directed and co-wrote with its star, London-based actor, Bette Bourne. The evening, was a light affair doused with sentiment and much nostalgia—particular attention paid to Bourne’s early coming out gay years—was a Q & A event featuring Bourne, with Ravenhill sitting on the stage asking questions, retracing his seventy-some-odd years of theatrical life with witty and touching stories, songs, photographs, and, consummate showman that he is, a few vaudevillian dance steps.
In his latest venture, Ravenhill returns to New York City, thanks to the One Year Lease Theatre Company at the 9th Space, with pool (no water), first seen at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre in London in 2006. Foregoing the life of druggies and homosexual acts—though we do get a whiff of both—the playwright turns his sights on a group of six artists, three men and two women still struggling to make it, and one lucky lady who has acquired fame, fortune, and the much-talked-about pool in the play’s title. Though never seen on stage or referred to by any name other than ‘cunt,’ strange as it sounds, Miss Pool (my words) is the star of the play. All actions taken, as well as words delivered, both for and against, are done so with her in mind.
In many ways the play is written as if spoken by a single person. It seems less a play, and more a cleverly directed (Ianthe Demos) and beautifully-choreographed (Naralie Lomonte), story-telling dance piece. This said, I can see, with the right actress or actor, (the latter with some minor male-oriented tweaking) can bring the bone-chilling words alive, realizing a whole new life for the play, not to mention scads of theatre nominations and awards (acting, playwrighting, and direction) in the offing. In the right and able hands—Hello, Pedro Almodovar and Julian Schnabel—it might even make a good movie.
For this production the director has broken up what could have been a monologue into separate lines, then distributed them somewhat equally among the five young, athletic actors – Estelle Bajou, Christopher Bakes, Nick Flint, Christina Bennett Lind, Richard Saudek – all of whom traverse the stage, in their best Pilobolus fashion, carting James Hunting’s set, long narrow tables, one for each, that serve quite nicely as a chair, bed, and various meeting places. Outwardly, the linearly-recited story is straight forward. But inwardly, the verbalization of each self-torturing character—one minute infused with love and compassion towards ‘Miss Pool’, the next filled with malice—is anything but.
The play unfolds with the 5 actors singing paeans, with a tinge of subtle doubt creeping in, to their beloved Miss Pool. “A pool, she had a pool… Did she mean to impress? Was it for show? No. I can’t think. No. Because she’s…“She’s good. She’s nice. She has integrity…she hasn’t forgotten us…she comes to our exhibitions. Cramped little exhibitions in lofts in the bohemian quarter. Our photos, our objets trouvés, she comes, she sees, she sometimes buys. And she’ll help our fund-raising drives…We adore her. We adore her. We all absolutely adore her.” As the play progresses, feelings of jealousy wash over the struggling, yet-to-make-it artists, as their feelings flip-flop back and forth, taking us with them from love to hate, the latter usually tinged with feelings of guilt. Herein lies the psychological electricity of the play.
Things take a turn for the worse when Miss Pool rounds up the crew for a midnight skinny dipping party. In the darkness, she fails to realize that the pool boy had drained the pool, and ends up broken and mangled on the bottom. Thus begins the intricate story involving clandestine photos taken by the artists as she lay unconscious in the hospital. They have a future exhibition in mind—drug-fueled days and nights at her estate and sexual encounters with the pool boy (or is it the personal trainer?), as they, not too patiently await her recovery. And recover she does. The scenes leading up to the end, which I won’t tell you here, are surprising, and mean, mean, mean! Suffice to say, everybody gets his comeuppance. Miss Pool, as a survivor, no doubt will go on to even greater success, while the others will spend the remainder of their lives lamenting their failure.
Reviewed by Edward Rubin, Friday, May 11, 2012
Written by Mark Ravenhill
Directed by Ianthe Demos
Performed by Estelle Bajou, Christopher Baker, Nick Flint,
Christina Bennett Lind, Richard Sandek
Choreographed by Natalie Lomonte
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