Felicia Corbett & Lo Abdelmalek in How Water Behaves. Photo by Bill Brymer.
How Water Behaves
By Sherry Kramer
Directed by Gil Reyes
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2018 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Sherry Kramer’s How Water Behaves is kind of a crazy play. Warm, funny, engaging, illogical, improbable, and slightly surreal – it is maddening in how it pulls these disparate qualities together for a conclusion that explodes expectations of narrative logic while somehow staying true to its own, unique sensibility.
In his program notes, director Gil Reyes claims, “I misrepresent things…I don’t tell the truth, I tell what ought to be the truth.” It is a fair maxim for any storyteller, but he quite usefully attaches a greater connection between that sentiment and this play, which deliberately stretches time and space in ways that make little sense. At one point two characters move a large Trojan Horse onto the stage after claiming that they brought it in the trunk of their car. Kramer’s stage direction for this moment includes this: (Sally and Hank push in an enormous Trojan Horse covered with Christmas garlands. The horse is so big there is no way it could fit in a trunk.) So her intention is clearly to release us from the “real” world, as we know it.
Hank (Bryce Weibe) is brother to Steve (Neil Mulac), who is married to Nan (Lo Abdelmalek), a married couple in their late 20’s who are eccentrically struggling with Steve losing his job as a web designer after his company goes out of business. They have christened the steam heat in their apartment “Ilsa”, and the sound design (nice work by Andrew MacLennan) and Steve and Nan’s interactions with the thermostat bring Ilsa to life as another character in the play. Sally (Megan Mraz) is Hank’s wife and they are much more economically secure.
Nan wants to have a baby, but Steve insists that they wait to follow their “Master Plan”, primarily that he have gainful employment. Meanwhile, Nan’s good friend Molly (Felicia Corbett) is paying for artificial insemination so she can have a baby without a husband. Nan has also been inspired by Allen Webb (Erwin Jacob), a poet who writes string theory poetry, and if I tell you how the final cast member, Janeane Louden, is introduced, I will have taken a step too far.
The introduction of string theory seems to mean something important:
“In physics, string theory is a theoretical framework in which the point-like particles of particle physics are replaced by one-dimensional objects called strings. It describes how these strings propagate through space and interact with each other.”
The text breaks down the importance of gravity in string theory in a dialogue exchange about how it controls the flow of water, “…maybe water wants to run uphill.” And it is the most interesting motivation behind the use of improbability and coincidence in resolving story threads into a happy ending you are likely to encounter. While I wouldn’t characterize How Water Behaves as a farce exactly, Kramer does seem to have studied Hollywood screwball comedies, capturing the zany quality that film scholar David Thomson, writing about Bringing Up Baby, labeled, “…life, energy, and the equation of the two.” The play hopes to pull us deeply enough into the relationship between Nan and Steve that we don’t allow ourselves to question the improbabilities as closely as we might.
Among the narrative complications are a website created by Steve called All’s Well That Ends With A Well, which seeks to fund wells in Africa where fresh water is almost non-existent. Although not intended to become live online, it mysteriously activates itself and begins accepting sizeable contributions.
The production struggles in a few scene transitions – that Trojan Horse IS big, and it tends to dominate Hannah Allgeier’s economical and well-observed set design. But the cast carries off the nonsensical action with style.
Lo Abdelmalek is so wonderful as Nan, so charming and funny, yet possessed of a face given to grave, thoughtful moments that ground the character beyond the silliness, and earning every laugh through playing that character. Neil Mulac does a fine job as Steve, essaying the emotional confusion central to the plot, but he can’t quite match Ms. Abdelmalek’s verve.
Bryce Weibe and Megan Mraz are adroit in capturing the overly upbeat Hank and Sally. A little too good looking and happy-go-lucky, with problems that are decidedly trivial in contrast to what Nan and Steve are facing. Erwin Jacob is kind of a hoot as Allen Webb, using his tall, slender build to fashion an engaging balance of ungainly awkwardness and grace.
Felicia Corbett is also very good as Molly, and has nice chemistry with Abdelmalek, although I feel the script gives her less to work with. About Janeane Louden, I won’t spoil anything, and I can only say that I loved her work here, and was impressed with the assurance in a performance from one who has no previous stage experience.
Personally, there were moments where the lack of logic in the linear timeline of events described by the characters pulled me out of my relationship with the story. But I’ll take that as emblematic of risk and originality, two qualities never to be taken for granted. If How Water Behaves entertains (and it does) while leaving you scratching your head, then it is likely that Theatre (502) and Gil Reyes will consider it mission accomplished.
How Water Behaves
May 18, 19, 21, 25, 26, June 1 & 2 @ 8:00pm
June 2 @ 2:00pm
At the Kentucky Center for the Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, where he is Managing Editor of their Artebella blog, and host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com. But spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.