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Play review: Please help me, I’m drowning, maybe …

By Len Clark
lclark@salisburypost.com
St. Thomas Players are to be commended on acquiring the rights to “A Body of Water,” the latest play in a 30-year span by notable playwright Lee Blessing. First produced only a little over a year ago, this plot about a couple marooned in time and place makes one wonder whether Blessing could have conceived the idea any earlier in his career, when baby boomers were at the top of their game, without a thought of loss of looks, poverty, dementia, frustration, loneliness or death.
The playwright started to write “Body of Water” soon after his marriage breakup, a time when many contemplate the meaning of life and memories of better times. Perhaps the greatest fear, particularly for someone whose life’s work is writing, is loss of memory and dementia. Approaching retirement age with a divorce under his belt the 58-year old Blessing, like many children of the 60s, was probably feeling mortal and vulnerable. And this play, if it’s about anything, is about vulnerability.
“A Body of Water” begins with a middle-aged man (Bob Paolino) and woman (Claudia Galup) waking up in a house surrounded by water. Apparently affluent and well-educated, they are fit and well, other than they have no idea who they are, have no memory and do not recognize each other.
Clarification appears to arrive in the form of a young woman, Wren (Dana Neelis), who tells them their names are Moss and Avis. Unfortunately for the hapless couple, Wren’s story of their lives changes daily and Moss and Avis must deliberate whether each day’s version is truth or fiction.
Wren’s daily revelation of the couple’s past and present could reflect the trails and tangents of human relationships. The metaphor might extend to the title “A Body of Water” and our human chemical content. Or are all the scenarios one character’s dreams or each taking place in other dimensions?
“Body” might be about death, purgatory or alternative reality. Perhaps the CIA is feeding the couple bagels full of mind-control drugs. For all we know, the play is a compilation of leftover, unassembled scribbles from some foggy ’60s party. Only the playwright knows for sure, and he’s not talking.
Blessing denies the play is about senility or any related condition, but hey, fellow child of the ’60s, I never believed Carly Simon when she claimed “You’re So Vain” wasn’t about Mick Jagger. Whatever it is, it’s a view from the inside. Whether it’s heaven or hell, public or private, the audience shares every funny and frightening emotion with Moss and Avis.
Bob Paolino and Claudia Galup enact the abstract and make it look easy. Fully into their parts on opening night, it was obvious much more went into these two characters over and above learning lines. From curtain to curtain, you are on the island with Moss and Avis. You may not know which part of the cosmos you’re in, but you’ll have no trouble believing.
Neelis transforms Wren from long-suffering caregiver to manipulative sadist to devoted daughter within the blink of a stage light. Galup and Paolino’s characters run the gamut of bemused curiosity to denial, shock, horror and acquiescence, throwing in a fair share of humor on the journey.
In regulars Galup and Paolino, we are fortunate to have two of the best actors in the state in our community. Accomplished actress Dana Neelis is a match and a welcome addition to St. Thomas Players, completing a cast you would find difficult to equal at any price, anywhere.
Director Sarah Drinkard should be proud of one of the best ever St. Thomas productions. Diana Moghrabi is stage manager. Or is she? If reality is just a bunch of memories and I have no memory, is Diana still stage manager? Maybe the answer is an anagram of Avis, Moss and Wren … my brain hurts, I think I’m en route to an intellectual intermission. Oh, and by the way, there is one ó an intermission ó between the third and fourth scenes.
St. Thomas Players, Center for Faith and the Arts, “A Body of Water,” Florence Busby Corriher Theater, Catawba College, August 6-9 & 13-16, 7:30 p.m. Tickets $10. PG-13 language/subject matter. 110 minutes, not suitable for young children. 704-647-0999. Let me know if you figure it out.

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