The devil need not be a red-skinned gent with a forked tail. He could be Jake Abadjian (Robbie Gay), a gorgeous and charismatic Hollywood star of the blockbuster Dawnwalker movies, playing an action hero who never speaks.
Jake is the satanic protagonist of Jane Martin’s 2013 play H2O, a Dantean struggle between faith and nihilism directed with brutal intensity by Kasi Campbell for Rep Stage.
You may remember that Satan, before his fall from grace, was considered the most beautiful and beloved of the angels. Jake is much like that—handsome and universally loved and coddled. If he’s on a film set in the middle of nowhere and wants blowfish sushi, it’s flown in. If he wants to make his stage debut playing Hamlet on Broadway, it’s not only a done deal but he gets to pick his Ophelia.
“You’re starting with Hamlet?” an incredulous Deborah Elling (Krenée A. Tolson) asks. She’s an actress on a mission—literally. Acting is evangelical for Deborah, a devout and chaste Christian who serves Christ through performing, especially Shakespeare, whom she says “makes sense of the mess we’re in.”
In this twisted love story that evokes the melancholy and soul searching of Hamlet, Jane Martin (a pseudonym for the playwright) uses wit, violence and poetic dialogue to tell the fatal attraction between Jake and Deborah. They meet the opposite of cute—depressed Jake slits his wrists and Deborah, his 4 o’clock audition, discovers his limp body and calls 911. He figures he owes her and offers her the role of Ophelia, not remotely out of altruism, however.
He’s an empty vessel, masochistic and narcissistic—full of self-loathing and ego that make him a yawning vortex of need. She’s a holy chalice—generous, giving and good in a way that’s not cloying.
Jake looks to Deborah for salvation—not necessarily the spiritual kind but to save him from himself. He can’t do Hamlet alone; like a succubus he needs her energy, her talent, her principles to succeed.
You may be asking—what does Deborah get out of this? She rationalizes this could be her big break, but what she doesn’t bargain for is that Jake tests her faith every moment and in every way—especially when she finds herself attracted to him.
And who wouldn’t be? With his relaxed physicality, resonant voice and calculated scruffiness, Gay’s Jake is an irresistible jerk—charming, self-destructive, the ultimate bad boy. He is too much, too dangerous for Deborah, like Hamlet and Ophelia.
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But Deborah’s no fragile flower. As played with radiance by Krenée A. Tolson, she’s full of the spirit and the spunk. Deborah has a great sense of humor—as evidenced in a hilarious scene where she baptizes him in a koi pond at a Szechuan restaurant—and is not above a little flirting. Glimpses of her in the role reveal that Deborah (and Tolson) would make a fine Ophelia.
Daniel Ettinger positions this battle for souls in a set that evokes a picture frame or a boxing arena. Dan Covey’s dramatic lighting design emphasizes the passionate clash between the devout and the damned.
Campbell stages H20’s short, fast-paced scenes with such fury that you emerge somewhat dazed and breathless at the end. You are bruised by his callous march into nothingness; but most of all by his cavalier treatment of Deborah, who is forever changed by Jake. What a piece of work is this man.
H20 by Jane Martin . Directed by Kasi Campbell . Featuring Krenée A. Tolson and Robbie Gay. Scenic Design: Daniel Ettinger. Light Design: Dan Covey. Sound Design: Neil McFadden. Costume Design: Ben Argenta Kress. Properties Design: Mollie Singer. Dramaturg: Lisa Wilde. Production Stage Manager: Julie DeBakey Smith. Produced by Rep Stage . Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.