Review: Wake up with a stranger, no idea where you are. ‘Body of Water’ flows from there
Without the persistence of memory, is self-knowledge even possible? Lee Blessing’s surreal, self-described puzzle play, “A Body of Water,” revisits the mystery of identity with a newly revised ending in an eerie, thought-provoking staging from Actors Co-op.
An attractive, middle-aged man and woman (Bruce Ladd and Treva Tegtmeier) wake up in a strange bed in an isolated lakeside house with no idea who they are or how they got there. Clad in stylish bathrobes that somehow fit them perfectly, the two strangers search for clues to their identities amid the coolly impersonal decor (scenic design by Rich Rose).
Worldly and articulate but lacking any sense of their personal histories, the pair seem adrift literally — water is visible from every side of the house — and metaphorically, as their physical bodies give no stability to their fluid, elusive identities. In fact, the only recollection each manages to dredge up only reinforces the unreliability of memory itself: his aged mother afflicted with dementia, her past breakup that left her and her ex with diametrically opposite impressions of what mattered in their relationship.
Some answers may be forthcoming with the entrance of a young woman named Wren (Ivy Beech), who seems to know them. Although Wren tells them their names and occupations, the nature of their relationship remains tantalizingly obscure.
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Is Wren their daughter? A caregiver assisting them after a disabling car accident? An investigator into their complicity in a horrible crime, or an attorney defending them against it? As the initial comic tone grows darker, each successive scene resets the board with a slightly altered premise.
Ladd and Tegtmeier are consistently engaging as the bewildered amnesiacs. Given the quasi-shamanistic power Wren wields over them, Beech’s reading could benefit from more variation than exasperated petulance. Still, it’s easy to understand her annoyance at having to cover the same ground with them repeatedly.
The setup is a radical departure from the linear, naturalistic structure and social topicality of other Blessing plays presented by Actors Co-op, namely “A Walk in the Woods” and “Going to St. Ives.”
Director Nan McNamara, who starred in both of those shows, demonstrates an assured affinity for the rhythms and nuances in Blessing’s writing. Leaning into the play’s ever-shifting realities and unmoored characters, McNamara’s in-the-round staging slyly situates the actors in a sea of faces. An immersive rustic sound design by Warren Davis effectively furthers the sense of isolation.
Blessing’s new ending adds startling dramatic momentum to the abstract metaphysical contemplation. However, even this seemingly definitive resolution ultimately gets undermined.
There’s certainly enough upheaval these days to make audiences relate to the heightened sense of untethered reality in “A Body of Water,” but a high tolerance for indeterminacy is required. The play ultimately begets more questions than answers, leaving it up to each viewer to decide whether possessing a stable identity is a curse or a blessing.
'A Body of Water'
Where: Actors Co-op Crossley Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood
Where: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays, through March 15; additional performance at 2:30 p.m. this Saturday
Info: (323) 462-8460 or www.ActorsCo-op.org
Running time: 1 hours, 30 minutes
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