The U of A Drama Studio Theatre season started in September with Mark Ravenhill’s pool (no water). This disturbing story of unspoken resentments within a longtime group of artistic collaborators featured Ainsley Hilliard, Vince Forcier, Brett Dahl, Kristi Hansen, and Gianna Vacirca, who I believe are all recent BFA grads of the department.
Much of the story is told by the five unnamed group members in overlapping monologues, interspersed with scenes where they interact as they re-enact the events they’re recounting. They tell a story about their dealings with a sixth person, speaking of her as She and often having one of them play Her role in their re-enactments. It seems that She was originally another participant in their group, but she became more distant as she got more conventionally successful. They mimic her and make fun of her, talking about her boasts about her commissions and swimming pool, but when she invites them to her poolside home for a visit they all accept. None of the locations are identified in the not-quite-real storytelling – I was picturing their home as the “bohemian quarter” of some big city, maybe New York or London or even Toronto or Vancouver, and the place where they visit their old friend as some island warm and full of wealthy expats, maybe in the Caribbean or somewhere like Mallorca or the Canary Islands if they’d travelled from London. The visitors comment on the large beautiful house with several servants, and then describe how they immediately plunge into partying, which leads naturally into all of them getting naked (on stage this was represented with various white undergarments) and preparing to dive into the pool in the dark.
Here I should describe the stage. It was mostly bare, with a cool blue light and some chrome furniture and gallery displays around the sides. But projecting out from the apparent front of the stage were five diving boards, with the space between them and under them and out into the audience being the pool. It was lit with that eerie blue swimming-pool-at-night colour, but when She plunges in, she lands on hard empty concrete and is badly injured. It was one of those shocks that’s almost a relief, since it was clear from the storytelling that something horrible was going to happen.
As She lies unconscious in hospital, the group still resents her, but overlaid on that is a mix of guilt, of relief that it wasn’t them, of enjoying her beach house without her around, and of a fascination with the whole concept of being comatose, which they express freely in front of each other. And they start taking pictures of Her when the hospital staff aren’t looking.
Eventually, she begins to recover, and when she finds out about the photos, she plans an exhibition, assuming ownership of the art. As you can imagine, this makes the group of friends even more resentful. The whole story is really about undercurrents of resentment in nominal friendships, and the heartless reactions and behaviours were entirely too credible for my comfort. It was thought-provoking, disturbing in a good way, and occasionally quite funny. Also, as one could expect from seeing Vince Forcier’s and Ainsley Hillyard’s names in the program, there was some very powerful expressive movement. It was a good start to the Studio Theatre season that left me wondering what would come next.