BWW Review: KB Productions' THE WATER'S EDGE by Theresa Rebeck
Performed amid a gorgeous, bucolic setting, the latest offering from Nashville's KB Productions - a retelling of Theresa Rebeck's Greek tragedy cum American family drama The Water's Edge - is performed upon what may be the most detailed, stunningly conceived and beautifully realized set ever seen on the stage of the iconic Darkhorse Theater. Designed by director Jaymes Campbell and crafted by a construction crew led by Joe Stinemetz, it provides an evocative backdrop for the action (or lack thereof) in Rebeck's much-maligned play, ideally capturing the physical trappings of a somewhat down-on-its-heels lakeside cottage where tragedy lurks behind every tree.
The set is the first thing you encounter as you enter the intimate confines of the Darkhorse and almost instantly you are transported to the upstate New York setting where Rebeck has placed her characters, giving them a plot that is a weird amalgam of the themes and tropes of Greek tragedy written in a language more at home in an HBO mini-series and a story that Valerie Bertinelli or some other TV actress of her ilk could be starring in on the Lifetime Movie Network. Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides might be, in turn, smiling down upon their modern-day colleague, reveling in the continued inspiration of the theater they first offered up to their own contemporaries - or else, repulsed by the convoluTEd Manner in which Rebeck has written her implausible tale of ill-conceived and violently delivered justice and simmering hatred fueled by the passage of many years.
What in the bloody hell was the prolific Rebeck thinking when she undertook the project to write The Water's Edge? Were her motives clear even to herself, we wonder? Was she simply trying to update the classic tenets of Greek tragedy for the modern era or was it a mere intellectual exercise to challenge herself as a writer? Perhaps that we could understand. But why subject audiences to her dour and depressing tale of a successful businessman returning to the lakeside cottage in which he grew up to confront his past mistakes and errors in judgment that resulted in a horrific episode some 17 years earlier?
Not even the smooth-as-silk direction of Jaymes Campbell and the best efforts of his estimable cast of actors can render Rebeck's script as anything more than rank sensationalism masquerading as a serious play. Act One plays out as a sometimes amusing, though hard to fathom, situation comedy that's light on the laughs and rather boring in stretches, thanks to the arch dialogue and preternaturally written past transgressions that afflict our quintet of characters. Act Two, on the other hand, seems like a pale copy of Grand Guignol drama where we are told of the shocking acts that have taken place and are left to wonder why it's taking so long to get to the end of the play, even though the suggestion of incest and Oedipal rage, coupled with thoughts of patricide and matricide, certainly shifts the onstage action into high gear.
Perhaps, we are supposing, the script reads better as literature than it works as a play and that may explain why Rebeck felt the need to share it with the rest of us. For if Campbell's vision for the play, which is visually stimulating and altogether eye-popping in delivery, and his cast - as capable as they are - can't save the script then perhaps nothing or, more importantly, no one can.
Clearly, the women in Campbell's cast fare better: their characters are written better, they are more intriguing and while their onstage actions might be confounding at times, they remain more fully fleshed out than their male counterparts, who come across oftentimes as mere ciphers, as pawns in some strangely conceived chess match.
Anastasia Zavaro, as Helen - the apparently jilted wife in the piece - gives a strong performance, imbuing each action with intention and commitment to deliver even Rebeck's most histrionic lines with powerful conviction. Her scenes with Gerald Pitt, as her husband Richard, fairly bristle with intensity even as the story is revealed to be more convoluted than initially thought.
Playing their daughter Erica, Elisabeth Yancy gives a startlingly good performance although the playwright subjects her to what could be construed as wild mood swings masquerading as character development. Yancy is thoroughly believable throughout the course of the play, making the script more watchable than it actually deserves to be. Likewise, Maggie Pitt, cast as Richard's current paramour Lucy, delivers a convincing portrayal even as you wonder why she remains at the cabin despite Helen's obvious distaste for her and the subsequent actions that follow.
Eric Butler is clearly one of Nashville's finest actors and he portrays Helen and Richard's son Nate with a sharply focused performance replete with enough tics, tremors and twitches to telegraph his character's mental instability, playing him with a deferential style. As Richard, Pitts seems to underplay most of his scenes instead of going over-the-top in his characterization, making his antagonistic relationship with his wife and children less compelling than if he'd shown more flashes of anger and rage.
The Water's Edge. By Theresa Rebeck. Directed by Jaymes Campbell. Presented by KB Productions. Produced by Donald Powell and LT Kirk. Stage managed by Katie Veglio. Lighting and sound design by Daniel Black and Sarina Richardson. Set design by Jaymes Campbell and BFAM Builders. At Darkhorse Theater, Nashville. Through July 8. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes (with one 15-minute intermission). For tickets and information, go to www.KB-Productions.org.