Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Water Children"

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note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Larry Stark

"The Water Children"

by Wendy MacLeod
Directed by David Siniako

Set Design by Emily Dunn
Lighting Design by Sarah Eisel & David Siniako
Costume Design by Liza Hope
Stage Manager Jessica Turner

Kit/Liz/Mom............Sarah Newhouse
Megan.....................Deanna Dunmyer
Boy/Chance................Beno Chapman
Randall/Dad................Peter E. Haydu
Roger/Jim.............Juan Luis Acevedo
Tony/ Priest.......John Michael Gilbert
Crystal/Cat................Georgia Lyman

Sometimes it can seem that a play is about a lot of things. "The Water Children" might be about being a 36-year-old unmarried actress six months without a part, or how much living your life according to your convictions can cost, or how real a West Virginia accent can sound, or what pent-up rage can drive a man to do, or how a director should take last-minute script-changes, or how a nervous cat can remain motionless except for a constantly twitching last inch of tail, or how hard it is to step back onstage playing a totally different character convincingly ---but it's not at all about any of these actor-objectives. "The Water Children" is an hour and forty minutes of dead-serious, toe-to-toe argument about abortion with no quarter given and neither side's serious, human-wounding emotional commitments slighted for a moment. And if you think --- as I did --- that such an intensely joined, even-handed battle cannot end on any note but cop-out, just get yourself over to the Beau Jest Theatre and watch Wendy MacLeod pull it off. You'll see some blindingly good acting and laugh a lot along the way, too.

The plot of MacLeod's play concerns Megan(Deanna Dunmyer), who accepts a role in an anti-abortion commercial, even though she's being considered for a perfume commercial to be shot in Japan. With an actual abortion in her past, and a flaming women's-liberal lesbian roommate (Sarah Newhouse), she's attracted to the lobby-group's CEO (Peter E. Haydu), repelled by its ragged-edge militants (John Michael Gilbert & Georgia Lyman), sneered-at by their director (Juan Luis Acevedo), and haunted by the querulous ghost of the boy she might have given birth to at sixteen (John Michael Gilbert). Everyone except Dunmyer doubles a second, smaller role, and the two-fisted shouting matches and flawless ensemble playing are peppered with laughs of ironic recognition and headline-reflecting honesty. Every single one of these characters comes alive as a three-dimensional human being --- yes, even that goddamned cat!

Oh, and the whole thing must have been well directed by David Siniako.

That is my little joke. There is pace, and balance, shape and detail here that no actors could ever achieve alone --- though it is the director's art to make it seem so. The show starts at a hysterically high level of exaggeration, and works its way down through stages of surprises, until these people meet each other on the mat at the very cores of their being with nothing to laugh at any more. It could be the cop-out unhappy non-resolution, except for one thing which is beautifully true but which I will not explain:
Megan gets the perfume commercial. You will have to see the play to know what I mean.

Almost irrelevant to this show's artistic success is the fact that it is an "Actors Equity Members Project Code Production." That means Sarah Newhouse and Deanna Dunmyer ("Deux Filles") are their own producers, that they cannot advertise to steal audience from working actors, or play before more than a handful of people who could pay to see other actors' work. Members Project shows, however, give professional actors a chance to try new things, to stretch their acting muscles, to work with gifted directors (Ted Kazanoff, Fran Weinberg, and Donna Sorbello for past shows), and to do plays that Equity Companies, for reasons of size of cast or difficulty of subject matter, would not attempt to do profitably. (Rick Lombardo might try this one, but who else?)

This is a system under which everybody wins. Four of this cast are Actors Equity members, and the others should be. This is a solidly controversial play of ideas that both sides might picket in a larger house, but the group here has a chance to make it the artistic triumph and financial disaster which --- since less than a quarter of the seats were filled opening night --- it has every potential of being.
However, anyone who truly loves good theater like me (or you) has the chance to experience stunning theater for a pittance.

Who can picket that?


"The Water Children" (till 24 October)
Beau Jest Theatre, 791 Tremont Street, BOSTON

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide