MARK RAVENHILL'S Pool (No Water), currently running at Theatre Vertigo under Samantha Van Der Merwe's direction, reads less like theater than like a piece of '80s experimental fiction: It features anonymous plural narrators, dialogue described rather than quoted, and a conscious examination of its own morality.
The ensemble, a group of petty, desperate artists—none have names—narrate the story. They take turns pretending to be more specific characters (a pool boy, a personal trainer, a dying friend), but always blend back into the Group.
The lone outsider in this is Her, the only one of them to have seen any real success. Her pool is the signifier of her wealth and achievements, but she's also just different. She's simultaneously more exciting and more reserved; more honest and more veiled.
When, upon the death of a Group member, she invites the rest of the Group to visit her and swim in her pool, they are hesitant, but err on the side of affection. When she is suddenly injured, landing unconscious in a hospital bed, their covetous, selfish instinct is to turn her tragedy into their big break—a work of art they can sell.
Resentments and accusations bubble, are met with shock and immediate regret, and are countered (or at least tempered) by traces of actual love. The cast is excellent in these scenes, taking turns at righteousness, regret, and hate. In their best moments, they embody a single, though fractured, narrative voice.
The show benefits from intimacy. In Van Der Merwe's production, cast members often plead with the viewer to believe the story, alternating between begging the audience to absolve and condemn them. Repetition is key to the desperation of the play.
Because nothing happens without the Group describing it, Pool (No Water) could very easily become a bland staged reading. Van Der Merwe's production, however, is relentlessly physical: The cast dances, strips, fucks, throws things, yells, cries.
The Shoe Box Theater is tiny—it seats less than 40 people. Its proportions are like a shoebox, yes, but happily also like a swimming pool, and it's decorated to resemble one. Seated among the actors, in the titular pool, the audience is so deep in the play even before it starts that there's no choice but to sink into this frantic, desperately told tale.