By MARTY CLEAR
It starts intriguingly, if self-consciously, like one of those delicious absurdist dramas of the 1950s and '60s.
A man and woman find themselves alone in a strange place, with no visible means of entry or exit. They have woken up in bed together, naked, but neither has any recollection of anything before that moment. They don't know their names and don't recognize each other.
Lee Blessing's A Body of Water is fascinating at first. Beautifully written dialogue by one of America's best playwrights, plus the infinite possibilities for explanations of the couple's plight (Are they prisoners? Are they dead? Are they Adam and Eve?) rivet the audience's attention. In the current staging, co-produced by Stageworks and Gorilla Theatre and directed by Anna Brennen, electrifying performances by Jim Wicker and Monica Merryman give the play a huge boost.
It's such a promising start that even when a third character enters and offers a disappointing explanation, we're willing to go along. A young woman named Wren tells the couple that they're married and they're accused of murdering their only daughter. Wren is their defense attorney. Every day the couple wakes up and claims amnesia, Wren tells them, and everyone thinks they're faking. (If that basic plot hasn't yet been used for a Lifetime movie, no doubt it someday will be.)
We later learn that explanation may not be true, and Wren may or may not be the couple's daughter.
The unfortunate problem is that Blessing hasn't seemed to have figured out for himself exactly what his point is. He seems very much to want to say something important about the human condition, but he ultimately talks with a mouth full of marbles. The result is gibberish.
The production is such a joy, though, that the audience doesn't much mind being left in a muddle. Wicker and Merryman never give bad performances, and they're both in top form here. Barbara Eaker never seems to get a handle on Wren's character, but that seems to be mostly a problem with the script.
Tandy Ecenia has created a gorgeous abstract set in aqua and white punctuated by disjointed, Mondrian-inspired panels.
Whether the considerable virtues of the production outweigh the frustrations of the script is probably a matter of taste. If you're looking for a drama that makes you think, though, all A Body of Water makes you think about is how much better Beckett and Sartre handled similar premises.
Marty Clear is a Tampa freelance writer who specializes in performing arts. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.