Wednesday, October 15, 2008


A Body of Water
Written by Lee Blessing
Directed by Mark Lamos
Starring Christine Lahti, Michael Cristofer, Laura Odeh

Performances from October 3 to November 16, 2008
Primary Stages at 59 E 59 Theaters
59 East 59th Street

Odeh, Lahti and Cristofer in
A Body of Water
(photo: James Leynse)
Two middle-aged people, Moss and Avis, awake one morning in a beautifully-appointed home on the shore of a picturesque lake with no idea who they are, where they are, or whether they’re even a couple. Is their amnesia self-inflicted because of a sordid act they’ve committed? Are they guinea pigs for an insidious plot? Are they terrorists being inflicted with a kind of new torture? And who is that serious young woman, Wren, who comes and goes constantly?

So summarizes Lee Blessing’s A Body of Water, a slippery slope of a play that tries to find the mysterious and unsettling in the mundane: a wedding ring, a buttered bagel, a set of car keys, a young girl’s photograph. Moss’ and Avis’s amnesiac responses to their surroundings could be a metaphor for any kind of extreme reaction, such as post- September 11 fear, blocking out a horrible past event, or a refusal to face a failed relationship.

However, Blessing doesn’t settle on any of these (or any other) dramatic possibilities with each successive blackout and accumulation of uneventful and unconnected scenes; unlike masters of ambiguity Pirandello and Ionesco—or even, on a lower level, Albee or Pinter—this playwright is unable to fashion something truly compelling out of his intentional loose ends. Indeed, by the time A Body of Water ends, and Wren has joined Moss and Avis in playing fast and loose with reality and illusion, you may want to dive into the nearest body of water to wash yourself off.

Scene by scene, Blessing has written his drama with precision and even wit, but nothing connects the dots, as these characters remain ciphers, not flesh-and-blood people—they never even ask the obvious questions early on that would have sorted everything out. (Of course, then there would be no play.) With its lazy speechifying about identity, A Body of Water makes one yearn for the good old days of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone, which did dramas with a twist more effectively–and concisely–in 30 minutes each week.

Maria Mileaf concisely directs on Neil Patel’s elegant set, and Michael Cristofer (Moss), Laura Odeh (Wren) and Christine Lahti (Avis) manage to impart glimmers of humanity to these authorial mouthpieces: Odeh is particularly appealing, and the delightfully unaffected Lahti–whose long overdue return to the New York stage this is–makes every gesture, bit of silence or line of dialogue genuine and even touching. Here’s hoping we won’t wait so long for her next appearance.

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