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:
I’ve seen a lot of plays lately in which men are dressed as women.
Wikipedia has an entry entitled “cross-gender acting”—in which the have an odd list about 35 or so movies or television that feature cross-gender acting. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cross-gender_acting The list goes all the way back to 1914.
In the meantime, I’ve seen 14 or 15 plays in just the last few months that fall into this category
Men Playing Women:
Most of the plays consisted of male actors playing women’s roles. In some cases, they were playing multiple roles, which included women.
1. Richard III and Twelfth Night, which were performed by the same all male cast in repertory. Both plays stared Mark Rylance as Richard III in one case and as Olivia in the other. Other members of the cast played other female characters in both plays.
2. Bertolt Brecht’s A Man’s A Man at the Classic Stage Company. Justin Vivian Bond plays a female character for no good reason. One of the plays I did not love.
3. I Stole Your Dad –a one man show by John Hodgman—in one section he dresses as Ayn Rand.
4. Stop Hitting Yourself at Lincoln Center Theater is written by Kirk Lynn in collaboration with the Rude Mech theater collective. In addition to a cheese fountain, the play includes one female character played by a male.
5. Charles Ludlam’s The Mystery of Irma Vep at the Lucille Lortel Theater: Ludlam wrote this play for two male actors. Each actor plays multiple roles, including women, and the play features the actors leaving the stage only to return seconds later in a completely different costume.
6. Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, a Broadway musical, is another example of a play written for a male actor to play multiple characters, including women.
7. The Bedlam Theater Group is four actors (3 men and 1 woman) who have been doing Hamlet and St. Joan in repertory. They each play multiple roles with minimal costumes, make-up or props.
Some of the plays feature actors who are playing male characters who like to dress as women:
1. Charles Busch writes plays which feature drag queens. He usually stars in them. I had never seen his works until the recent The Tribute Artist at 59 East 59th Street. A very smart, enjoyable, farce.
2. Casa Valentina, by Harvey Fierstein on Broadway is a play based on a real group of men who met secretly to spend the weekends dressed as women. One of two plays in the bunch that I disliked.
And a final category is male actors who are playing men who dress as women to fool others:
1. The Heir Apparent, which just finished its run at the Classic Stage Company, was written in the 18th century by Jean-Francois Regnard and updated by David Ives. A Moliere-style farce, involves cross-dressing and impersonation as part of antics to gain an inheritance from a dying tightwad.
2. The Good Person of Szechwan at the Public Theater. The main character of this Bertolt Brecht play is a female who is too nice and is constantly taken advantage of. She dresses as man in order to allow her to take control of the situation by being more cold, calculating and brutal. The Public Theater production, which I loved, featured Taylor Mac, in this role–so we had a male playing a female who dresses as a man. In the talk back after the performance I attended, Taylor Mac, who does cabaret style shows in drag, said he wants to separate himself as an actor from his cabaret shows. Therefore, he was reluctant to take a role that involved playing a woman. I’m glad he did–he was fabulous.
I’ve also seen a couple of plays in which women are playing men. Interestingly, in both plays, the actresses are playing men, but not are not costumed or made up as men: