In the posh living room of a townhouse on 37th Street, an insistent bass shakes the alcohol stained cups littered on the floor and resonates up to the colonial crown molding. Drinks and drugs in hand, six artists are devolving into debauchery—and it looks like a hell of a lot of fun.
“The Group,” as they call themselves, is performing Nomadic Theater’s production of pool (no water). “The Group” is comprised of Emma Clark (SFS ’13), Nicholas Phalen (SFS ’16), Ben Prout (COL ’15), Grayson Ullman (COL ’16), Shannon Walsh (COL ’15) and Amanda Weise (COL ’16).
The play is an intimate show—only 11 audience members can view it at once—performed exclusively in a townhouse. Producer Jack Cassou said of the setting, “Unlike in a traditional theater, we couldn’t use elaborate lighting instruments and beautifully crafted moving set pieces to take you from one world to the next.” Through “interactive performance,” pool (no water) succeeds in bringing you deeper into this world by focusing on the parts of human nature we rarely choose to showcase.
But lets get back to the party. Diving into drugs and art offer potent distraction from the life of artists in New York in the midst of the AIDS epidemic, fierce artistic jealousy, and friendship troubles. When “The Group” goes on a binge, just a foot away from you, stripping and gyrating while knocking back drinks and doing lines of cocaine, they kiss and caress indiscriminately. But the actors seduce you, too, with the promise of “feeling alive.” They say, “humans, let’s human each other.”
On stage, even under the natural interior lighting, the character’s flaws are magnified. They recount their journey to the titular pool in sunny California, visiting the one member of their cadre that became a success.
The flow of the dialogue and group cohesion is magical. Such concordance is no surprise, given the original format of the piece: Mark Ravenhill wrote it as a “non-demarcated stream of consciousness that could be delivered and articulated by any number of people,” in the words of Director Hannah Hauer-King (COL ’14).
Hauer-King decided to present six characters. Upon choosing the cast, Hauer-King set about shaping the character’s identities and delegating lines. Each character is masterfully carved out of Ravenhill’s clay: all of them are convincing and unique.
On the whole, the acting is smooth and well crafted, but Amanda Weise (COL ’16) stands out for her inimitable zeal. Exceptionally believable currents of emotion and fervor drive her every blink, pose, and gulp of whiskey.
Once in California, “The Group” resents the successful, better version of themselves. They call the artist that hit it big “absent.” “None of us was meant to be wealthy!” they shout.
The successful artist says, “When I think of the suffering. … I want to rush back and make art.” But, she has her pool, her gallery openings, her personal trainer and her sexy pool boy. She has absented herself from the ugly—at least on the surface.
Because “The Group” can’t do the same, they are fraught with frustration and jealousy. They only can feel “good again when she is weak.” The southern California art goddess must fall off her pedestal and crack—quite literally— for “The Group” to bear her success. In fact, a tragedy comes to pass to their popular hostess.
“The Group” goes on to show how they take out their jealousy on the victim of the tragedy in the most reprehensible act they have ever committed.
All the actors excel at an unabashed portrayal of the dirty side of human nature. “If [only] we could forget,” says one member of the group, we wouldn’t need the drugs, the sex, the alcohol, or even the art to drown out the parts of ourselves that we don’t want to face.
There is no easy path to redemption offered by pool (no water). But the play offers a much better morning after than a night of blackout drinking.