5th Wall Theatre’s production of H2O is impossible to forget
I have been thinking about 5th Wall Theatre’s inaugural play, H2O, for the past three days: Jane Martin’s brilliant script, the visionary directing, and the first rate acting. And I’ve been thinking of water itself. It can heal, quench thirst, spring forth life. It can also kill.
H2O is not for the faint of heart. And I would caution that its themes are too dark for young children. For theatre goers wanting an uplifting, feel-good experience, this is not one of those burst-into-song-and-live-happily-ever-after productions. True art reflects true life. Sometimes, life is bleak.
Jake’s good looks propel him into LA-stardom as the mute superhero Dawn Walker. The newfound fame fans his ego and keeps his bed occupied with countless women. He’s got it all. Except confidence, and purpose. Or actual talent. He drinks and curses his way through his dismal life with equal abandon.
Deborah is a revivalist Christian who talks to Jesus and strives to be a morally-pure actress. She believes that Jesus is her personal savior and has called her to be an actress. She is willing to sin in His name. As long as it has meaning, and souls are salvaged along the way. Her dream is to play Ophelia on Broadway.
When Jake gets authority to do a full production of Hamlet in New York City, he casts himself in the leading role and searches for his Ophelia. This is a deconstructed Hamlet, so H2O opens with Deborah showing up for a 4:00 p.m. audition and finding Jake attempting suicide. Her 911 call saves him, for which he can’t forgive her.
The dialogue is electrifying, poignant, sometimes funny, and sometimes cutting to the core. Landon Nagel and Liz Earnest as Jake and Deborah are flawless. As Jake tries to woo her with his charm, alternately offering her his bed and his hand in marriage, Deborah tries to show him that there is light to be found in his dark world. The audience feels his amorality, and equally feels her zealousness. We hope that somehow these two diametrically-opposed souls can save each other.
Scene and set changes are done seamlessly, with stage hands a part of the play as they quickly and quietly move set pieces and even help dress and undress the actors on stage.
The mission of Carol Piersol, Artistic Director, and Billy Christopher Maupin, Associate Artistic Director for 5th Wall Theatre, to “add the dynamic of “fifth wall” to peoples’ consciences, and “provide insights into our human conditions through theatrical expression” has been accomplished. It would be nearly impossible to leave the show without carrying it beyond the four walls of the theatre space.
“Why is this play called H2O?” I heard more than one audience member puzzle on their way out the door. I see it this way. For the Deborahs of the world, baptism by water can save your eternal soul. For the Jakes of the world, sometimes that water is nothing more than a Koi pond in a Chinese restaurant. To determine H2O’s meaning requires that 5th dimension: the audience members’ own humanity. That’s why it is so hard to shake it off.
H2O continues through September 27 in the Theatre Gym at Virginia Repertory Center. For tickets go to http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/734483.
lie Harthill Clayton is an out and proud bisexual with a passion for reading, writing . . . and NOT arithmetic. She’s the proud mom of two young adult men and is slowly adjusting to having them both away at college. Her work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Internet Review of Books, Curve Magazine, Lambda Literary and more. She is the newest member of the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle. A paralegal by day, Julie spends her free time knitting, writing, and reading anything she can get her hands on. She lives in Richmond with her partner, local artist David Turner, and their mischievous and loving hunting dog, Max.
It more largely illuminates how hard it can be to forge both a satisfying career and a fulfilling personal life in an era that seems to demand superhuman achievement from everyone.September 19, 2016
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