A Body Of Water @ 59E59 Theater A, New York

cast list
Christine Lahti
Laura Odeh
Michael Cristofer

directed by
Maria Mileaf
Lee Blessings A Body of Water is a uniquely American take on an existential style of theatre. It voices the big questions on stage. “Who am I? Why are we here?” At the same time it forces unasked questions on the audience: “What happens when I grow too old or ill to remember?” “What if I have to be a care giver?” The beauty of the play is that, while asking these questions, it gives the audience room to think and laugh at the same time.

The three-hander takes place in a house surrounded by water. A mature man and woman awaken in the house, in bed together offstage, with no memory of who they are or how they got there. And, for a while, the play simply seems content to watch these two people trying to piece together a history and discover who they are and where they are. The pair, played by Christine Lahti and Michael Christofer, bring a very breezy discomfort to the situation at first. Although they don’t have intellectual memories of the past, there seems to be an almost instinctual memory of fondness and warmth that guides their behaviour and interactions long before they understand their relationship.

The light tone and mood turn suddenly when a third character, Laura Odehs Wren, enters the world these two are slowly and carefully building. And Wren’s arrival topples the narrative they have built. Wren is a mystery to the pair. Is she their daughter, their lawyer, a nurse or something else? Wren doesn’t want to confirm any suppositions. But through the play she confirms all of them, many contradictory.

Ultimately the audience, like the characters, is left to choose what lessons to take from the piece. There is no tidy explanation and for much of the play, no linear narrative. In fact it seems as if days change randomly and the situation of the man and woman has, by turns, barely moved, or regressed or taken a whole new twist.

The play has been performed before in various levels of completeness and Blessing, whose previous work includes A Walk in the Woods and Going to St. Ives, has changed the ending in each instance. I haven’t seen any of the previous incarnations of the show, but I thought this one ended on the perfect emotional note.

Christine Lahti, back on the New York stage for only the second time in 15 years, is astounding. She shows the grace and strength that comes with experience, but also the venerability that is appropriate for the situation. She keeps the show on the perfect level, questioning but not ominous. It also helps that Michael Christofer is never a threatening presence on stage. Laura Odeh has the hardest job. Wren’s disposition and emotions veer pretty widely from scene to scene, yet she is totally believable in each instance. She makes it clear that Wren has the most knowledge of the situation, but is unable to change it. Odeh is quite wonderful in bringing this character to life; she is, by turns, brittle, angry, comforting and weary she multiples the emotional risks.

A Body of Water isn’t a simple play, but it is an extremely engaging one if you are open to it.

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