in my humble opinion

Fringe 2006 - Review - The Depth of the Ocean - 5 stars

The Depth of the Ocean - Perpetual Motion Theater Company - the pool at the YWCA

One of the things I like about calling Uptown Tix and making reservations is that the reservationists are curious about hearing more info on the shows. They'll tell you if there are trends related to something you're interested in seeing. And sometimes, they're actually going to see the Fringe shows, too.

When I called and mentioned The Depth of the Ocean this morning, the woman on the other end of the line said, "Oh, I've seen that. It's really good."

Yes. Yes, it is.

And that's why I just locked it in as the last show I'm seeing on Sunday.

I'm hedging my bets on Saturday and catching the last outing of Baggage, because I'm fairly certain something like Die Clowns Die, How To Cheat, or She So Beloved is going to nab the encore extra performance prize in Rarig Arena (it's based on attendance of the first four performances, if I remember correctly). I'd like to be pleasantly surprised, but if I want to revisit Baggage, Saturday's performance is a sure thing. Sunday is still foggy.

And hanging out at the pool one more time seems like a perfect way to close out my Fringegoing for the year.

(Mom gives it 4-1/2, but I give it 5 -

"Should I be giving fives? I just don't think *anything* is life-altering."

"Mom, you go ahead rate things however you like. If 4-1/2 is your highest rating and you give it out sparingly, that's just fine.")

Mom says, "I've been looking forward to this one all weekend and they didn't disappoint."

Take off your shoes and socks, pull up a chair by the pool, and enjoy.

There's a reason this one was front and center on my pre-Fringe top 10 list. It's much more than the gimmick of "theater in a pool"

Because the water is real, and not imagined, it becomes, like the life raft (their stage), another character in the ensemble. It is elemental and unforgiving, even of its acting partners. Even though the actors are completely capable of handling the water, the constant presence of a lifeguard as part of the audience is a reminder that things could go very wrong at any moment in a way they rarely go wrong in a "normal" theater.

But this story of survival doesn't just have a sense of foreboding going for it. There is a lot of humor, arising out of both character and situation, since the characters are all full of contradiction, and the situation is so bizarre. The laughter is one more thing which has us rooting for the characters to survive, even though we know their chances are slim. Still, they made it this far on a fluke. Maybe...?

I was already a fan of Derek Miller's acting, and then I read the script for last year's Fringe show from Perpetual Motion, Common Frequency. Now I'm a fan of his writing as well.

Like "Common Frequency," the script for The Depth of the Ocean brings together characters from very different walks of life by sheer chance, and then sees if they can find a way to work together to survive. In this case, survivors of watery disasters from the early, mid and late 20th century collide with another from the early 21st century. How? Why? The play doesn't say, but leaves you plenty of room to mull it over afterward. Like Lost, the teasing questions and a myriad of possibilities both natural and supernatural are almost more satisfying than one concrete answer might be. And in such situations, where reality is variable, the only reliable constant is human nature. Such stories by default become character studies of people in extreme situations, and how they handle themselves well, or badly.

First, two Navy men from a World War II battle surface - Mickey and Holden (Miller and Mark Sweeney). From start to finish, their "brothers in arms" bond is open to a number of interpretations. But it is clear that the connection between them is intense, and it causes them to do some very noble, and very stupid things. Tellingly, their last thoughts at the play's close are of one another. The show doesn't need a GLBT content warning or anything, but if you're looking for homoerotic subtext, you don't have to look very hard.

Next, who should come floating by but Brandon (Eric Sharp), fresh from a losing encounter with the December 2004 tsunami. Having just been torpedoed by the Japanese, the Navy boys are naturally suspicious, even hostile, to someone with Asian features.

Anna (Alia Mortensen), self-sufficient refugee from the British ship Lusitania, comes swimming up, umbrella in hand. It's a weapon she's not afraid to use, either.

Finally, falling out of the sky, from the exploding TWA Flight 800, is shady businesswoman Lauren (Erin Appel), whose vacation is definitely not going as planned. Thankfully, she's still got her purse on her, and her medication is handy.

The misunderstandings, connections and conflicts between these five stranded strangers, and their mutual nemesis the ocean - and all that lives beneath the surface - are the fodder for compelling viewing.

Yes, the tile around the pool is at your feet. The starry backdrop of the night sky is clearly a fabrication. The acoustics are different here, but just the right shade of spooky. If you focus on those five actors in a life raft, nothing else matters. They convince you of the reality of their situation, and for a little less than an hour, they own you. Just turn over your suspension of disbelief into their hands, and it's kind of thrilling what happens.

We forget our disasters, the causes and their fallout, at our peril. But it happens, again, and again, and again. That is a large part of what this cautionary tale is about. From its solid story to its meaty characters, from the setting's degree of difficulty to the cast's mesmerizing performances, I really can't recommend this show highly enough.

Just like Fringes past - introducing me to the likes of Live Action Set in 2003 and the Players of Notorious Temerity in 2005 - I now have another new theater company to follow. Perpetual Motion Theater Company, just like its name, will hopefully just keep on going for a long while. Even our theater-rich town can always use another great group of inventive theater artists creating new work.

Very highly recommended.

Next Performance - This is easy to remember - 7:30pm every night for the rest of the festival, including closing night Sunday - but don't put it off - the shows are filling up (and with very good reason)

Oh, and the fun doesn't stop when the show's over. Check out their blogs - one text, one photography - they're a kick. I'm kind of addicted to them.

Tuesday, August 8, 2006 at 2:06 PM

Filed under 5 Star Shows - Life Altering Experience

© Matthew A Everett