- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 18, 2006

Everyone’s having a senior moment in Lee Blessing’s funny, enigmatic play “A Body of Water,” which the talented Rebecca Bayla Taichman has directed to a fine sheen at Round House’s Silver Spring outpost.

Forgetfulness and the persistence of nonmemory are motifs in this drama, which confronts the way we reinvent ourselves through constant change and interactions with others.

Water and fluidity is another recurring theme, as the play is set in an unnamed oasis on the top of a mountain where a showplace home is surrounded on all sides by water and trees — evoked by James Kronzer as a deep blue, sort of existential swimming pool with a white float bobbing in the center. A middle-aged man (Jerry Whiddon) and woman (Nancy Robinette) sit in their bathrobes drinking coffee — a homey Sunday-morning scene, except for the fact the two have no idea who they are and why they are here.

They don’t even know if they are married, and a hasty examination of their wallets reveals their names, Moss and Avis, but little more. They begin a tentative and highly entertaining game of “Twenty Questions,” poking at their spongy brains for clues and whipping open their bathrobes to flash each other in the hopes flesh will jog their memories. When Moss suggests they were strangers who wound up in the same house, Avis chides him that they woke up naked in bed, and he replies, “Maybe we have loose morals.”

They sit in a rather pleasant, companionable fog until the arrival of Wren (Kate Eastwood Norris), an abrupt and brisk young woman wearing a jogging suit like armor. Playing with their heads — and ours — Wren could be their daughter, their lawyer, a caregiver, or even a manipulative grifter. Every time Wren walks into the living room, she has a different persona, a different story, until we don’t know who is real or imagined, alive or dead.

The plainly at-sea Moss and Avis grasp at any information Wren feeds to them. “A Body of Water” seems to say that our concept of self, and even the passing down of history, is watery at best and about as easy to trace and hold onto as teardrops in a river.

The gently mischievous play, which turns frightening at the drop of a hat, also seems to ask to what extent we choose our own reality. Are we cherry-picking our memories? Have we learned anything from the past, or are we just going with the flow?

Mr. Blessing does not provide answers so much as float intriguing possibilities. When so much diversion is spoon-fed to audiences nowadays, it is a kick to walk outside a theater and see people engaged in heated discussions as to whether or not Moss and Avis actually exist, and which guise of Wren’s is the real one.

To keep audiences on edge and guessing, Miss Taichman presents a beautifully pristine, blank-slate kind of production where anything can happen or be cleanly erased at a moment’s notice. Similarly, the three actors manage to exude magnetic personalities while offering up nary a hint of back story. Miss Robinette, who lately seems incapable of an acting misstep, is vibrant and expansive as Avis. She’s a cipher you’d like to spend time with. Jerry Whiddon’s voluble Moss has more bite; amnesia has not worn away the hard edges of his personality. In Miss Norris’ Wren, you see Avis’ yielding qualities and Moss’ calculating mind, as well as some unsettling quirks of her own.

The elasticity of our identity is taken to an absurd degree in “A Body of Water,” and Mr. Blessing’s way of toying with memory and perception recalls the work of Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett. Unlike the often bracing chill of Mr. Pinter and Mr. Beckett, however, this play is warmer and more forgiving, disturbing but never alienating.

***

WHAT: “A Body of Water” by Lee Blessing

WHERE: Round House Theatre Silver Spring, 8641 Colesville Road, Silver Spring

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Through June 4.

TICKETS: $30 to $40

PHONE: 240/644-1100

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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