Pool (No Water)

Review: Vertigo’s ‘Pool (No Water)’

A five-against-one story of friendship and Schadenfreude

It would be an understatement to call Mark Ravenhill’s Pool (No Water) “mean-spirited.” In fact, it’s misanthropic to the marrow—a sort of Lord of the Flies for artistic adults, wherein five “friends” cannibalize both the success and the struggles of a sixth member of their social group. As Morrissey once crooned so memorably, “We hate it when our friends become successful.”

In the pool at Vertigo. Photo: Gary Norman

In the pool at Vertigo. Photo: Gary Norman

The woman in the crosshairs of Theatre Vertigo‘s new production (played by Christy Bigelow) is tall, blonde, and shapely in a red bikini—a classic set of attributes to engender envy. She’s also the one who acquires the titular pool and invites her (ahem) “friends” over for a celebratory swim. To set the mood, scenic designer Ted Jonathan Gold has transformed the entire Shoebox Theatre space into a swimming pool basin, painted in cool aquamarine tile patterns. The edges of the stage space even curve up to meet the risers, a hint that, like it or not, we’ve all plunged into the deep end together.

This feeling is reiterated by immersive—one might even say invasive—blocking by the rest of the ensemble (Stephanie Cordell, Nathan Dunkin, Joel Harmon, Tyler Ryan, Holly Wigmore, and R. David Wyllie), who intermittently narrate from disbursed house seats and rush the stage. Through Jessica Wallenfels’ frenzied, high-energy choreography, they pantomime swimming, dancing, drug using, and feigning support for their “friend.” At one point, they describe but don’t deliver full nudity … probably wise considering Shoebox’s intimate space, or a fear that such a scene would upstage the rest of the story.

Sometimes while they speak, actors make pointed eye contact with particular audience members as if to convince them of something: “It’s important that you believe this part: We really do care,” the narrators urge … unreliably.

Without giving too much away, the script points out the following puzzlers:

  • Why do we impulsively feel tender toward the weak, but resentful of the strong?
  • When someone is inscrutable (Ravenhill says “absent”) why do we so often assume the worst about that person?
  • Why does every friend group seem to unite against one or more of its members at any given time?
  • If artists are supposed to be such great feelers, why do they so often seem to lack empathy?
  • What do you make of morbid fascination? Is it great (Yay, stimulation!) or terrible (Boo, tragedy)? Is it natural or depraved to be excited by life-or-death situations?

Continues…