I’ve been to a lot of theater lately (both on Broadway and off) and, I have to say, I enjoyed Jacuzzi more than the rest. Jacuzzi is a creation of The Debate Society—a Brooklyn based theater company that consists of two writers/actors (Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen) and one director (Oliver Butler).
I had seen their Blood Play at the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival a couple of years ago—a play that featured the basement tiki bar of a surburban home, odd retro drink concoctions, friendly neighbors and a touch of malevolence. And I saw Hannah Bos perform in Will Eno’s play The Open House earlier this year.
So when I saw that tickets for their new work Jacuzzi were selling out fast, I grabbed a ticket, and became an Ars Nova at the same time (where I saw the terrific Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 in its original incarnation).
The theater has been turned on its side–Instead of having the show at one end of the rectangular room, the set is a long and narrow living room down the side of the theater. There are just three rows of seats for the audience and the nice tiering guarantees everyone a good view. The living room is part of a vacation home in Colorado mountains. It is ski season and snowy outside, but the living room contains a working jacuzzi and throughout the performance, the four actors are hopping in and out of it.
When the play begins, a couple (played by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen) are in the jacuzzi. We think that they are vacationers who have rented the ski chalet. A third person arrives. Handsome and preppie looking, it turns out he is Bo, the son (played by Chris Lowell) of the homeowner. He is supposed to be meeting his father the next day and wasn’t expecting anyone to be in the home. Bo assumes that the couple are renter just as we are starting to get the sense that maybe they are not. Bo has never held a job and lives off the money of his recently divorced parents. He says that his father is paying him to spend time with him at the house–isn’t that sad, he adds. The next day, the father (played by Peter Friedman, who I have seen recently in The Great God Pan, The Open House and Fly by Night) arrives and things start to get interesting.
I don’t want to say too much—because a lot of the fun of watching the play is trying to figure out what is going on.
I love the way the play reveals itself slowly—you never know exactly what the truth is. I enjoyed watching for the silent clues in the facial expressions of Hannah and Paul and their wordless signals to each other. Nothing is exactly what it seems–particularly in the motivations and personalities of the characters. All of the characters are flawed—the son doesn’t treat people very well and perhaps, has a skeleton or two in his closet. The father, together with his ex-wife, wrote bestsellers about their son’s development while he was growing up—embarrassing him and making a psychological lab rat out of him and his friends. The couple must be up to no good, but it seems the woman is also trying to bring the emotionally estranged son and father back together.
The ski chalet which is like a fifth character also contains mysteries–it appears to be pure 70’s–a VCR, a TV that’s not flat screen, lots of knick knacks which take us back in time. Bo says the knick knacks, which look like cheap junk, are valuable collectibles that belong to his mother. Is the play taking place in the 70’s or is the ski chalet just stuck in a time warp?
Some of the mysteries of the play are explained in a voice-over narrative by one of the characters, some are revealed n the movements and glances of the couple and some are never solved (why won’t the town merchants let the father and son shop in their stores?) But all along, we get to enjoy the ambiguities.
Jacuzzi has been extended to November 8th.
More about The Debate Society:
Fly by Night is a funny, poignant, enjoyable musical. It’s a lot of fun and I recommend you see it.
Harold’s mother has died and, when going through her things with his father, Harold sees a guitar that he never knew she had. He goes home with it and when he’s not working in a New York City sandwich shop, he’s learning how to play the guitar and trying to write songs.
Daphne has done some community theater in her small town in South Dakota. Now she’s ready for the big time—she moves to New York City to see if she can get to Broadway. She brings the family car and her sister Miriam with her—Miriam is good with maps and also makes a mean cup of coffee. Miriam goes reluctantly, since she is content pouring coffee at the town diner. She’s a stargazer not an aspiring star and it’s hard to see the stars in the sky in New York.
There is more than one love triangle when Harold crosses paths with Daphne and Miriam. but this is not a light farce or story of mistaken identities. It’s about themes like love, fate and chance, hope and disappointment, dreams and realities, the healing power of music told with clever writing that had me laughing out loud.
At one point, a couple is talking about breaking off their engagement. They say that the vows they hear are “for worse, for poorer, in sickness, until death do us part.”
Some of the humor revolves around the sandwich shop where Harold works and the owner of the shop. I’m still repeating the mantra “mayonnaise, meat, cheese, lettuce”.
The storyline is not linear. It jumps ahead and then goes back to explain what just happened. Things build to a climax on the night of the Northeast blackout on November 9, 1965.
The music is more rock ‘n roll than Broadway musical. The band (Foe Destroyer) is center stage. And in addition to playing the music, with an almost sleight of hand, they give props to the actors.
The stage itself is entertaining. Plain tiered levels, what looks like a floorboard opens like a bench. Inside is enough detail–phone, alarm clock, cushions–to indicate a bedroom or living room of a New York apartment.
If you want to know more: the New York Times did a feature about the three writers of the show, Will Connolly, Michael Mitnick and Kim Rosenstock.
Conceived by Kim Rosenstock; written by Will Connolly, Michael Mitnick and Ms. Rosenstock; directed by Carolyn Cantor; choreographed by Sam Pinkleton; sets by David Korins; costumes by Paloma Young; lighting by Jeff Croiter; sound by Ken Travis and Alex Hawthorn; production stage manager, Kyle Gates; general manager, Carol Fishman. Presented by Playwrights Horizons, Tim Sanford, artistic director; Leslie Marcus, managing director. At Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street, Clinton; 212-279-4200, phnyc.org. Through June 29. Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes.
WITH: Henry Stram (Narrator), Adam Chanler-Berat (Harold McClam), Peter Friedman (Mr. McClam), Patti Murin (Daphne), Allison Case (Miriam), Michael McCormick (Crabble) and Bryce Ryness (Joey Storms).