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‘Body of Water’ at Redtwist: Life as a circular swim with no clue of current, bottom or bank

Submitted by on Mar 14, 2013 – 11:49 am

Review: “A Body of Water” by Lee Blessing, at Redtwist Theatre through April 7  ★★★

By Lawrence B. Johnson

Imagine your life like water running through your fingers, formless, undefinable, irrecoverable. Imagine further that this amorphous fluid – which is you – returns to your hand each morning, only to drain away again in a perpetual loop of uncertainty, each recurrence unconnected to the last.

Such is the unmoored daily life of the middle-aged couple Moss and Avis in Lee Blessing’s 2005 play “A Body of Water,” which Redtwist Theatre offers in a Chicago premiere of unsettling plausibility.

Nothing is quite knowable in Blessing’s floating web of ambiguity, except perhaps that we are caught up in it. From one day to the next,  Moss and Avis remember nothing, They may not even be a couple in the sense that they somehow belong together, as husband and wife or brother and sister or even close friends. They’re a twosome, and that’s all we know. Well, threesome: There’s also the young woman Wren, about the right age to be the daughter of this pair.

“A Body of Water” well may be a tragedy wrapped in a dark comedy. It is at least a provocative slice of life in some twilight warp, if not a play of compelling depth. Credit director Mary Reynard and a game cast with giving it an engaging go.

We meet Moss (Brian Parry) and Avis (Jan Ellen Graves) in an attractive little house that sits on a finger of land that juts into a body of water. It could even be an island. Here they awake each morning to rediscover each other and try to figure out who they are and why they are in this house – and whether it’s quite appropriate for them to be sleeping together and, well, having sex, if indeed they’ve actually done that.

In the midst of their mystification, the woman Wren (Stella Martin) enters, an audacious interloper as far as Moss and Avis are concerned. But Wren corrects them. She is their lawyer in a case involving the brutal murder of a child. OK, on a different day maybe she’s somebody else. Wren could be their daughter, after all.

And so it goes as we observe variations on a demented theme, two lives in a topsy-turvy tumble like an episode from “The Twilight Zone.” Or is it three lives? What’s Wren’s real story? Are we taking all this in through her eyes? Are we indeed being taken in? Was there really a murder? Are we paddling around in the unconscious?

Blessing has called “A Body of Water” a puzzle play. No kidding. In capturing the couple’s discombobulation, instantly and utterly, Parry and Graves draw us into an alien world ringed by disorientation, desperation and denial. All that, and fear. If one of them leaves the house, will that person reappear? Will the person who has remained at home recognize the other upon his or her return?

It’s all questions, including the biggie: How long has this been going on? The conjoined lives of Moss and Avis are not being written as statements but as interrogatories. They don’t know one single thing.

But like anyone grasping at some framework of rationality, they want to claim at least fragments of certitude, and that’s the beauty of these performances by Parry and Graves – their shared effort to make sense of the senseless, to secure the elusive touch-points that might give meaning to the couple’s lives. While Parry swings from calm objectivism to raging frustration, Graves toggles between anxiety and delusional hope.

Martin’s multi-persona Wren, who admits she occasionally toys with Moss and Avis, at times even abusing them, arguably holds the key to the whole mystery. And it may not be a matter of her having vital information. Martin plays Wren straight and convincingly. Yet, as it’s all anybody’s guess, it’s at least conceivable that this circular swim is just so much splashing about in Wren’s traumatized mind.

Helping make these characters feel real is set designer Nick Mozak’s comfortably, attractively appointed dwelling, with its lakeside view. Olivia Leah Baker’s handsome costumes and Christopher Burpee’s expressive lighting add to the general aura of well-being. Aura, or illusion.

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Photo captions and credits: Home page and top: The disconnected threesome of Moss (Brian Parry), Wren (Stella Martin) and Avis (Jan Ellen Graves). Descending: Moss (Brian Parry) tries to comfort the distraught Avis (Jan Ellen Graves) as Wren (Stella Martin) looks on. Moss (Brian Parry) finds distraction in the National Geographic issue on memory. The disoriented twosome Moss (Brian Parry) and Avis (Jan Ellen Graves) as giggling couple. Below: Moss (Brian Parry) despairs as Avis (Jan Ellen Graves, center) demands answers from Wren (Stella Martin). (Photos by Kimberly Loughlin)

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