Off the Deep End

Monkey Wrench Collective's ferocious staging of Mark Ravenhill's 'pool (no water)' drowns us in a sea of envy

Cruelty, hatred and resentment abound in the Monkey Wrench Collective’s production of British playwright Mark Ravenhill’s 2006 pool (no water)—the group’s inaugural show in its new Fullerton home. It’s an appropriate baptism. The former Rude Guerrilla players love Ravenhill, and this staging should give theater-goers a taste of what’s to come: raw, raging, cutting-edge theater that never ceases to generate heated conversation on the drive home.

This Ravenhill tale, under the inspired direction of Dave Barton (also the Weekly’s art critic), is certainly as shocking and gritty as the playwright’s other works (Shopping and Fucking, Sleeping Around, etc.), yet pool stands above his usual c-word-laden repertoire. While it’s certainly the kind of over-the-top concoction of psychotic people doing and saying all things repulsive one has come to expect from Ravenhill, this horde of green-eyed malcontents should be very familiar to us (maybe even include us), as it unleashes a maelstrom of ugliness so potent that it seeps into your marrow.

The ensemble piece centers on a group of less-than-successful bohemian artists—five men and one woman, none of whom are named—that both reviles and worships the one member of the gang who actually had the talent to make it big. The group acknowledges that this other unnamed character whom I’ll call the Artist (Jessica Lamprinos), though famous and wealthy, has not abandoned it entirely—she supports its fund-raisers, often buys its art (even if she doesn’t like it), and has a decent bedside manner for friends beset with AIDS or cancer. These deeds only make the group hate her more, however, and the envy and hostility is not only palpable, but also vicious.

The backbiting and muttering all take an unconscionable turn one night when the members are guests at the Artist’s home, invited to imbibe and splash about in her new pool. The party soon moves inside, and after hours of debauchery that would make even Bacchus proud, the frenzied group decides to toss the exuberant Artist into her pool for a skinny-dip. Upon doing so, it realizes the pool had been drained by a clueless pool boy.

What follows is a study in cruelty, addiction, obsession and chaos as the group semi-rushes the Artist to the hospital, where, like a smashed eggplant, she lies in a coma for two months. While she’s mentally AWOL, her pals rejoice in her tragedy, and with malicious fervor, they begin taking photos of her body not only as-is, but also posed in unflattering positions, adding their own sadistic hand gestures into the frame.

When she finally does come to, one of them squeals about the photos, but instead of reacting with disgust (she is the one with real talent, remember), the Artist finds inspiration: She will show the photos in an exhibition—and even take more of them herself. This final trumping of their collective scorn sends her pals into a maniacal meltdown, and they plot to sabotage her project. Technically, they succeed, yet their lack of vision and understanding of the difference between their nature and hers might well be a modern-day example of survival of the fittest; this time, instead of brawn beating down brains, it is the power of talent that triumphs over laziness—even if that talent is hobbling around in a walker—and the Artist rises again.

Director Barton and choreographers Melita Ann Sagar and Lee Samuel Tanng took on a monster with this production—a bare-bones text with single sentences parsed out among actors with no characterizations, directions or descriptions on the page. Employing a cohesive and impressive creative vision, the trio manages to transform the small, brick-wall-enclosed space into a melee of projected videos, revving soundtrack, focused light and creeping shadows that meld into dark, crude poetry. There are no props, save a gurney and a single cluster of shower curtains; these minimalist representations serve the production well, keeping Ravenhill’s disembodied tale in the abstract nightmare world in which all human excess is amplified.

Cast members Lamprinos, Peter Balgoyen, Christopher Basile, Keith Bennett, Sean Engard, Terri Mowrey and Alexander Price are decisively twisted archetypes of the oversexed, overdrugged and self-absorbed pals and co-workers who can inhabit many of our lives; the energy and courage with which the actors bare their strife and bodies is a sight to behold. And while the sordid details of the play are semi-exclusive to the artist/bohemian type, the dynamic of the unfulfilled trying to tear down the successful translates into any realm. That impulse is a kind of evil twin that dwells within us all—whether or not we choose to confront it.

 

pool (no water) at the Monkey Wrench Collective, 204 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 525-1400; www.monkeywrenchcollective.org. Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 6 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. Through June 6. $10-$15 (cash only).

 
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