POOL (NO WATER)
Sundown Collaborative Theatre
Directed by Tashina Richardson
Assistant Director: Richard Quadri
Costume Designer: Katie Hall
Lighting Designer: Natalie Taylor
Online Content Videographer: Paul Christian
Stage Manager: Irvin Moreno
Assistant Stage Manager: Cierra Lopez
Junkie: Jerome Beck
Pussy: Travis Stuebing
Whore: Danielle Trudeau
Bitch: Brittany Willis
Reviewed Performance: 4/27/2012
Reviewed by Chad Bearden, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
How do creative people deal with success and failure and humility and jealousy, and what does any of that have to do with the creative act itself? These questions are central to a sometimes heavy-handed script from Mark Ravenhill.
To recommend Sundown's production of pool (no water) might be going a bit far. Its content and presentation will likely seem more off-putting than thought-provoking to a casual theater goer although alienating some viewers is probably an acceptable risk when one sets out deliberately to provoke. In that sense, this production is willingly aimed at a niche market.
But while the show is also encumbered by other flaws (beyond a mere rejection of popular taste) it must be said that the quartet of actors who make up the cast work the room with great vigor to earn the audience's investment. In spite of the show's problems, there is a certain attractive charm in watching actors work that hard to leave it all on the stage.
If you've never seen a production at Denton's Art Six Coffee House you should be warned that the performance space is an intimate one. The coffee house itself is actually a residential home converted into a hip little art gallery/coffee shop. The performance space is that house's standalone garage. A support beam stands prominently in the center of the stage, with seating in-the-round provided by several overturned wooden platforms and pylons.
Actually, "intimate" doesn't quite do justice to a venue that can't comfortably hold more than 20 or 25 visitors, and where an actor is almost always within arm's reach. The Sundown cast does an admirable job of staying fearless in such tight proximity. At multiple points, actors deliberately seek out eye-contact with audience members to engage them more fully in various fiery moments. This eager cast, consisting of Jerome Beck, Travis Stuebing, Danielle Trudeau, and Brittany Willis, is never hesitant in making a personal connection with you specifically.
But a small space is also an unforgiving one. Behind a proscenium, an actor has a certain amount of leeway, a threshold between the footlights and the front row across which small mistakes and artifices diminish. In the tiny confines of the Art Six garage, each little hesitation is not just noticed, but amplified.
An unintentionally stuttered line, an out-of-character glance during another actor's monologue, any fraction of a moment that is anything less than 100% honest breaks the reality of the play. As hard as this cast works, there are fleeting glimpses of inexperience and nerves.
Another drawback to such a small space is the necessity for an extra amount of subtlety. Stage performers must typically work in sweeping, broad strokes, playing to the back of the house, so to speak. Despite its cozy venue, however, Sundown's production is always swinging for the fences, careening wildly from frenzied gluttony to mortified guilt to manic glee, forfeiting any potential for a more tempered, nuanced flow from one state of mind to the next.
I found myself bothered by some of the perverse language, not because I'm prudish, but because it seemed a cheap and cynical addendum to alert the audience that "Now We're Being Intense!" I'd much rather see our characters earn those F-Bombs and C-Bombs. But they insist on playing the extremes, seldom exploring the connecting tissue in between: the softer, fine textures that might get lost in a larger venue, but could haunt in a shoebox like Art Six.
Another small glitch the show does manage to overcome (about half-way through) concerns its staging. Director Tashina Richardson stages the show with a very deliberate radial symmetry, a fair choice for theater-in-the-round. For the play's first thirty minutes however, this symmetry is limited to each actor staking out a corner of the room and narrating their states of mind. Only when the show begins building towards its climax is this symmetry truly utilized and then violated in interesting and satisfying ways. The play would benefit from creating some similar moments earlier.
Ultimately, however, the show's flaws begin to fade into the background thanks to its trump card: an asset which pulls the audience back in even as some little problem may begin to distract. That asset is a very passionate cast, whose efforts go a long way toward redeeming a few stuttered lines or bits of lackluster staging. A quick glance at the company bios predicts pretty accurately the strengths of the performances by way of each actor's level of experience. Some are stronger than others, but each young performer comports him or herself admirably and there are no real weak links. One leaves the tiny garage theater having been imprinted with four distinct (if misanthropic) characters and with the hope that these actors will, upon closing, carry this show with them and learn from and build on the experience.
Thanks should also be given to costumer Katie Hall and lighting designer Natalie Taylor. In such a sparsely staged production, even a swatch of ill-conceived clothing or a single over-indulgent light cue would draw enough attention to spoil the reality of the performers. Hall's costumes are hip simplicity. Taylor's lights subtle as they fade from one moment to the next. Both designers are savvy enough to let the actors do the work.
The program's director notes quote Gore Vidal who said, "Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies." While this certainly reflects the themes of pool (no water), I must insist that not every member of the creative community is quite so bitter, and some of us even hope to see both these actors and the Sundown company continue to grow and evolve. I may seem at time that I'm more interested in defending and rooting for this show than I am about recommending it, but for those who value what a robust theater community contributes to society, Sundown Collaborative Theatre's pool (no water) is the type of show that should be sought out and nurtured in spite of, or maybe because of, its flaws. Potential being discovered can be just as satisfying as potential already fulfilled.
Sundown Collaborative Theatre
at Art Six Coffee House, 424 Bryan Street, Denton, TX 76201
Very limited run through May 6th
Friday through Sunday at 8:00 pm
Tickets are $10.00 general admission and $8.00 for seniors and students.
Cash or check preferred. A .50 handling fee will be added for all credit cards purchases.
To reserve tickets, email firstname.lastname@example.org.