Not Going to the Beach This Weekend? Dip Into ‘Pool (No Water)’

Richard Saudek in OYLs pool-no waterCourtesy OYL. Richard Saudek

“Pool (no water),” by British actor, playwright, and journalist Mark Ravenhill, ends its run at the 9th Space this weekend. If you’re in town, you may want to make your out-of-town friends jealous by catching One Year Lease Theater Company’s production of the 2006 play tonight or tomorrow.

Envy, after all, is what this excellent work is all about. In it, a group of artists divulge the story of a friend who, having found the critical and commercial success they haven’t, invites them to her new mansion to party like old times. This friendship is called into question when she gravely injures herself from jumping into a pool with, well, no water.

The group sees artistic potential in their friend’s condition, which leads to thoughts of profit. They photograph her discolored body, even moving it into the light of the hospital window. Yet they insist (and not without credibility) that they still love her. Most shockingly, she starts to recover — and says she’d love to work with their photographs.

Basically a cohesive monologue recited by a group of five terrific actors, the play demonstrates that our decisions are flawed not because we do wrong things, but because we don’t even know what we do. In Mr. Ravenhill’s murky psychological world, devotion is not so far from envy, relief is the flip-side of disappointment, and love is practically indistinguishable from jealousy and hatred.

EstelleBajou in OYLs pool-no waterCourtesy OYL Estelle Bajou

This might sound like it makes for gloomy theater, but that is not the case, thanks in part to the actors’ fluid movements, directed by Ianthe Demos and choreographed by Natalie Lomonte. Each line is coupled with an action seemingly inspired by synchronized swimming, so the eye never stops moving.

There’s also an undercurrent of humor – albeit the pitch-black, sardonic kind. Mr. Ravenhill captures the particular flavor of the contemporary urban artist’s worldview: the characters strive for honesty, yet are doubtful of its value; they strive for good, yet can only do so cynically, having endured years of thankless anonymity; they want to show pride in their life’s work, yet hate who they’ve become. Their only sincere outlet is humor.

Actually, they have another escape mechanism: drug use. In fact, the rapturous joy achieved through drugs carries one of the climaxes of the piece, though perhaps it is wrong to call it a climax. Dramatic tension and release are wrung so consistently throughout this work that one feels a general anxiety – bordering on exhilaration – watching it.

The hour-long play ends quickly, on an ironic note that is sure to irk some viewers, but the brevity of the piece is its power. We empathize because we too have made harmful decisions with good intentions in the heat of the moment. The final scene, of the characters’ resignation to their knotty emotional lives, is presented too winkingly, but the breath of air comes at just the right time.

“Pool (no water)” at the 9th Space, Performance Space 122, 150 First Avenue, at Ninth Street; (212) 352-3101, Through May 26.