CHELSEA — What would you do for art? Or rather, what would you, as an artist, do to make money and further your career? That’s the question asked by British playwright Mark Ravenhill’s darkly disturbing 2006 drama “pool (no water),” which not only has no water but also is devoid of location, characters, or any kind of staging instructions. Taking up just 28 pages in print, and an hour in the theater, the play is a series of recollections about the title entity and what happened there. It could be related by one actor or many. In the fine Apollinaire Theatre Company production now up at Chelsea Theatre Works, director Danielle Fauteux Jacques has apportioned the text among five actors, and they put real flesh on Ravenhill’s bare bones.
The pool — a swimming pool, as you probably suspected — belongs to a former member of an artist group who live in the bohemian quarter of their unnamed city and exhibit in lofts to raise money to benefit heroin babies. When one of the group, Ray, died of AIDS, this former member made art out of his “blood and bandages and catheter and condoms” and became rich and famous. She moved from the city to a place where there are palm trees, and built a swimming pool and hired a pool boy and a personal trainer. Then she invited everyone to fly out and visit. After the funeral of yet another group member, Sally, they all did. That’s when the no-water accident happened and the visiting group members decided to make art out of it, so they could be rich and famous, too.
Apollinaire has set the play on a narrow landing on the top floor of its Chelsea Theatre Works space, where there’s room for just 18 audience members, who line the walls. Centered on the floor, as symbolic pool, is a large sheet of black plexiglass. Along the back wall there are tables with artist materials, a white frog pitcher, some fading daffodils, plates of olives and oranges and cheese and crackers, and bottles of wine and spring water. The audience is invited, before the performance starts, to help itself to the food and drink.
Jacques has her cast relate the story in the present tense, a sensible decision that gives the evening greater immediacy. The actors, whose characters have no names, talk among themselves, but also to the audience. Ronald Lacey starts it off, telling us, “Tonight’s performance of ‘Othello’ runs approximately 2½ hours.” Alison McFadden whispers in his ear. Lacey, crestfallen, resumes with “Oh, at least there’s wine and cheese.”
Each character has a distinct personality. Lacey, who sports burgundy nails (finger and toe), is arch and insinuating but never mean-spirited. McFadden is the more open of the two women; Lorna Nogueira is tight-lipped and held back. Brian McCarthy radiates sunshine; Chris LaVoie, the swing vote between McCarthy and Lacey, is tortured by thoughts of dead comrades Ray and Sally and Tommy. The characters could easily seem self-absorbed and entitled, but this group is sweet and caring; at one point they even break into a chorus of “Puff, the Magic Dragon.” In the course of the production, clothes come off (there’s some nudity and a plethora of four-letter words) and paint, mostly blue, is applied. We hear of a drug-fueled orgy, an angel in white appears, and there’s a surprise ending. Jacques and her actors may not fill Ravenhill’s pool with water, but they fill it with life.Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.