This world premiere has a fascinating premise, that performing theater, in this case, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, can help save a wayward soul desperately in need of structure in his life. Partnering this Hamlet with just the Ophelia is the key.
Deborah is a righteous evangelical Christian desperately seeking her first acting break, and Jake is the movie star meaningless jerk she saves from suicide.
At opening, Deborah enters and utters, directly to the audience, “Jesus didn’t have much to say about actresses… “. When several moments later, Jake enters as a bloody mess and collapses in front of her, Deborah dials 911 operator and gets busy following directions, applying tourniquets to stop the bleeding and administering CPR. While another actress might have thought herself lucky to escape such a crazed Hollywood star, Deborah follows him to the hospital and the two begin their complicated, strained relationship.
Jake thinks his survival is the ultimate evidence of his failure to do even one thing right, and Deborah is to blame. In his angry, caustic state, “thank you” is certainly not in order. She ignores his demand to leave his room. Seeing her kneel in prayer, he, the ultimate non-believer, howls in derision and disgust.
The rest of the play is a pas de deux to see if their love and respect of Shakespeare can bring them together. The scenes are well-written and the relationship progresses through a series of encounters where they lurch forward towards trust and friendship, only to fall back with betrayals and accusations, then reach another milestone of mutual affection, only to be disappointed again.
Runs in repertory
through July 28
Contemporary American Theater Festival
CCA 112, Center for Contemporary Arts/I
92 West Campus Drive
Shepherdstown, West Virginia
2 hours with 1 intermission
Details and tickets
The actors do a great job with what they’ve been given– as Deborah, Diane Mair’s strong gaze portrays someone deeply rooted in faith and Alex Podulke brings a roguish air to the self-destructive Jake. The staging is exquisite; stage hands wear black and bring the scenes to life in the open, moving the set pieces, positioning props, dressing the actors for scene changes, adjusting make-up, like puppeteers whose mere presence enhances the imagination.
Jane Martin’s choices for the ending are somewhat baffling, unnerving, and unsatisfying. While understandably the playwright didn’t want a pat fairytale ending, there must have been other options besides swerving us all head first into an abyss.
This world premiere, commissioned by the Contemporary American Theater Festival, has potential and with the future stagings this play will no doubt receive and the input from CATF audiences, its sought-after playwright will have time to resolve issues with the characters. For now, even the title, H2O, leaves questions: Hamlet to Ophelia? The healing yet also destructive force and nature of water? It’s all a bit much for this lay audience member.
H2O by Jane Martin . Directed by Jon Jory . Produced at the Contemporary American Theater Festival . Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson.