I’ve never done a play.
So you’re starting with Hamlet?
Nice instinct for the jugular.
Jake Abadjian is the late 30’s Hollywood action star of the three Dawnwalker movies. He played a mute superhero in these worldwide blockbusters for which he has been showered with fame, fortune and privilege (“I get anything I want.”). He’s in New York City to begin rehearsals as Hamlet on Broadway. At the audition for the role of Ophelia, he meets Deborah Elling, a 26-year-old talented but struggling actress and evangelical Christian. Their riveting comic and dark romantic journey is the subject of H2O.
Author Jane Martin has taken the familiar dramatic staple of a love story between two clashing opposites and rendered it compellingly here. There are plot twists, witty dialogue and violent incidents all with a tone-combining sweetness and melancholy. Jake is a depressive riddled with self-doubt and Deborah’s devoutness complicates her personal emotions.
Martin’s superb writing precisely imparts biographical details, conflicts and actions in various locales during the eight scenes of this fast-paced two-character play. This is accomplished through monologues spoken to the audience and well-crafted exchanges between the characters.
One hilarious scene is a baptism that takes place in the decorative pool of a Manhattan Chinese restaurant. Another is a visit to Los Angeles where Jake has been nominated for a moviegoers fan award (“not the Golden Globes”) leads to a lovely dance sequence amidst barbed name dropping.
Anne Hathaway. Ethan Hawke. This is like the mad-hatter’s tea party.
Did you see your mom dancing with Christopher Plummer?
And I guarantee you, she has no idea who he is.
That probably turns him on.
Believe me, that doesn’t turn him on.
There’s a lot of lampooning the crassness of Hollywood and Broadway but these inside show business observations will come across as truthful rather than mean-spirited to anyone who regularly reads entertainment columns.
With piercing sorrowful eyes, fluid athletic physicality, and a charmingly resonant voice the scruffy Alex Podulke perfectly personifies Jake visually and emotionally. Mr. Podulke’s comic timing combined with the fragile depth he conveys adds up to a tremendous performance.
Sleek, limber, and intense, Diane Mair as Deborah is commanding. Ms. Mair is a Chicago-based actress making her New York City stage debut and it is a sensational one. Whether explaining her Christian faith or her devotion to the theater, she brings a unique heightened simplicity to her performance that captures the total believability of the character with fierceness and humor.
Together Mr. Podulke and Ms. Diane Mair are dynamic, and in addition to their bantering and soul searching, they have many tender moments that realistically simulate the behavior of a tempestuous couple in love.
Director West Hyler has seamlessly staged the play’s short scenes with swiftness, clarity and weight. Mr. Hyler’s technical achievements are matched by the rich performances of his cast. Scene changes are done by and the actor’s costume changes are aided by a team of black clad expressionless young males and females in full view of the audience. It’s a theatrical device that’s very well executed and never distracts from the world of the play.
David Arsenault inspired set design involves basic elements including doors on wheels, beds, tables and chairs, that are strategically moved around the bare stage. These minimalist tableaus instantly give the sense of place. Travis McHale’s lighting design starkly and aesthetically connotes the appropriate moods and locales.
A battered leather jacket, aged jeans, a tuxedo, simple women’s garments, and a glamorous gown, are among the pieces of Whitney Locher’s costume design that cleverly represents the characters with flair and realism. Ms. Locher’s outfits for “Hamlet” and “Ophelia” have a delightful authenticity and easily could be used in an actual production of that play.
Eric Satie and Guns and Roses are evocatively played during transitions and these and other effects are skillfully modulated by Toby Algya’s balanced sound design.
With all of these superior qualities what makes H2O even more vivid is Jane Martin’s uncompromising writing that doesn’t flinch from honestly depicting the characters’ behavior even if it upends more desirable resolutions.
Jane Martin is a pseudonym and this author’s plays have been produced since 1981. Ever since, there has been speculation about the author’s identity but it remains unknown. The play was commissioned by the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, where it received its world premiere in 2013.
H2O (through December 13, 2015)
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit to http://www.59e59.org
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission