Single Carrot Theater’s Foot of Water opens with this thought, spoken by the narrator (Jessica Garrett): “Love is like a balloon….When you are inside the balloon, love is completely natural, it’s what’s supposed to happen.” And when you’re outside, things get strange. That’s all you really need to understand this alternately weird and highly affecting production.
Love creates its own ceremonies and rules. While you’re in love, they seem to be part of you. When you’re not, they turn bizarre and ritualistic. In a few scenarios, Single Carrot explores this dynamic to the hilt, in one quickly passing hour.
Ensemble-conceived productions by SC, at least the ones I’ve seen in the last five years, have always been a lot of fun. Slampooned took bad poetry on a trip it deserved to take, and Sects and Violins was an evening in a mad tv brainstorm session.
Foot of Water is clearly in a different class. There’s something about building a gigantic Rube-Goldberg construction in the middle of the theatre, combination fountain and beach pavilion, not to mention a foot of water to the floor that indicates that this venture was invested with more than high energy brain waves. This time, Single Carrot clearly wanted more than skits to come out of this groupthink. Or applause.
It’s not the first time Single Carrot has dabbled in movement theatre. The efforts to stretch their limits were usually the object of praise; the end results were uneven. This time, it looks like the efforts are bearing fruit. For a play that came out of the ensemble, Foot of Water is focused and conceived. It creates its own laws, and it follows them.
But the story itself, at least as I saw it from my seat, seems to unfold from a counterpoint. There’s a group of tightly shorn young men (Nathan Cooper, Nathan Fulton, Aldo Pantoja, and Elliot Rauh) running around without pants, panting and squirming as a sort of quasi-erotic school of fish, charged with sexual energy. Jessica Garnett plays a more narrative role; Alix Fenhagen plays Hylas, a sea nymph. The games begin.
There are references to Greek myth, and borrowings from “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, as well as clippings from intra-group writing exercises, but leave those at home. The principle tension that seemed to develop and hold this production together is between the solitary and communal in love. The actors enact scenarios, which seem to emerge from a common denominator: desire. But as each game progresses, the encounter develops its own bizarre rituals — whether it’s scaling and gutting a fish, or offering a post-coital postmortem for one hapless male (Elliot Rauh). In most of these scenarios, Hylas is the outsider, the object of attention and desire, who flutters in from the outside, watches from afar, and plunges into the game, then disappears.
This isn’t an attempt to say everything that needs to be said about love. But it does offer us the chance to watch the physical link between what we think of as our personal coming of age, and its ceremonial, ritualistic, and the tribal, often violent ceremonies that seem to get imbedded in society. We like to think of them as two different worlds. Single Carrot’s production challenges that assumption.
This is the result of a lot of work, and it deals with Big Issues, but the impulse to turn this into an epic has been resisted. The characters walk that fine tightrope, with the tension added by Steven Krigel’s soundtrack, which flows from bluegrass to techno jazz in a way that evolves slowly into the final, percussive, incantatory effect.
Calling something ‘the sociology of sex’ is an invitation to ridicule. I mean, hey, this is Baltimore, dude! You want full frontal, go to the Block.
But this is much more than a brainstorm of motifs or a violation of theatre mores. Each section of the production has its own carefully thought out genesis. The group effort clearly discouraged any temptation to showboat, and, for the most part, bridges to nowhere have been torn down. (There are a few lines that hang in the air, but, hey, that’s true in this article too.) There are enduring moments: a young woman washing the shirts of the villagers to recapture her enduring relationship with the sea. The sudden cringes of fear and hostility that punctuate the piece. The fear of loneliness battling the fear of crowds.
It takes a group that knows one another to work out those dynamics. Single Carrot is clearly moving on up. I’ve seen better plays produced here, and better performances, but I’ve never seen Single Carrot this tight as a group.
Foot of Water runs thru July 8, 2012 at Single Carrot Theatre, 120 W. North Ave, Baltimore, MD.
Details and tickets