"A Body of Water"
Call it a lack-of-memory play. Lee Blessing's "A Body of Water," now in its local premiere at Redtwist Theatre under Mary Reynard's direction, takes its audience through blind alleys, rabbit holes and more twists than a corkscrew as it unfolds several possible takes on an aging couple's mutual amnesia, only to end up becalmed in its own narrative contrivances. But at least this production has strong acting to carry us through the slow patches.
Moss (Brian Parry) and Avis (Jan Ellen Graves) wake up in a lovely home, surrounded on four sides by water. Where are they? Who are they? The two have no idea, and the appearance of a young woman named Wren (Stella Martin) doesn't help matters, even though she hands them the first clues to their names and relationship to each other.
It soon becomes clear (or at least clear-ish) that they are married. But is Wren a defense attorney trying to jog their memory about the night their young daughter disappeared and was presumably murdered by them? Or is that just a story told by a disgruntled daughter weary of trying to care for increasingly feeble-minded parents? Scenario after scenario unfolds in Blessing's chamber bagatelle, but none succeeds at providing deeper resonance when it comes to unwinding the shrouds of mystery over Moss and Avis' unmoored reality.
What does work is the relationship between Parry's Moss and Graves' Avis, who take Blessing's "Mulholland Drive"-by-way-of-"50 First Dates" scenario and breathe life into its creakier aspects. Graves does her usual fine work with suggesting a woman trying to maintain dignity in ridiculous and frightening circumstances, as she did a couple of years ago in Redtwist's stellar production of Edward Albee's "A Delicate Balance." And Parry finds hints of an aging but irresistible roue in the occasionally hidebound Moss.
Martin also does respectable work, but the character, as scripted by Blessing, is too much the product of a playwright's need for a dramatic cattle prod to really land emotionally. Still, there are points when the dynamics click into place, and "A Body of Water" suggests some deeper currents under its shallow meditations.
Through April 7, Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.; $25-$30 at 773-728-7529 or redtwist.org
Narrative contrivances also undo Gregory Peters' "Matryoshka" with the Plagiarists, which starts out strong as a promising spin on a classic slasher-film, woman-in-peril scenario but delivers diminishing returns in Jack Dugan Carpenter's frenetic staging.
Peters' conceit is to take the bones of the stories of Scheherazade of "1,001 Nights" and filter them through a series of contemporary genres — noir, zombie flicks, et cetera. Sherry (a vibrant Jessica Saxvik) has been kidnapped by Teddy (Robert Montgomery). Like her ancient counterpart, Sherry attempts to put off her death by telling a series of interlocking stories, just like the Russian nesting dolls that give the play its name.
The opening interlude is truly terrifying, and the first series of tales — involving a vengeful scientist's experiment gone wrong, which intersects with a story of a mobster seeking retribution on a moonlighting mook giving away crime-family secrets at a comedy club — ties together a lot of thematic loose ends with elan.
But then it goes on, and on, and on, until the whole thing feels like an endless exercise in playwriting-by-pop-cultural Mad Libs. The cast does a decent job shifting between stylistic tones and various characters, but they can't overcome the grating sense that this is less a piece about the power of storytelling and more about a writer determined to show off some smarty-pants cross-hybridization.
Through April 13, Red Tape Theatre, 621 W. Belmont Ave.; $20 at 800-838-3006 or theplagiarists.orgCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times