nytheatre.com review by Mitchell Conway
September 20, 2011
Lake Water is a portrait of adolescent turmoil in all its frank cruelty. In a small town in rural Minnesota, high school seniors James and Iris meet on a small dock along a lake they've visited since childhood, three months after the suicide of their close friend Hilary. They haven't spoken about the death until this night. Although James called Iris in desperation, he struggles to reach out to her—both are barricaded by their dissolving friendship and unhealed wounds.
Samantha Soule as Iris has a playful girlish physicality, constantly fidgeting, or chewing some snacks. Soule's performance is delightful and especially heartbreaking when we see her darker side. Iris goes to leadership conferences, is on the prom committee, and will be going off to college. She has just begun to thrust herself into the party scene.
On the other hand, Troy Deutsch plays James, who hangs out with the "stonies," and is more outwardly moody, sarcastic and annoying. While communicating intoxication, youth, and effeminacy, his vocal choices were at a single level that made him less sympathetic. He pushes both the audience and Iris away, making the difficulty of reaching out to a struggling teen inherent in the character's rendering.
The writing, also by Deutsch, nicely captures the angst and inner contradiction with these characters—how jealousy and anxiety turn vicious, yet can be assuaged by a hint of warmth or a common memory. Near the beginning dialogue falls into a predictable pattern of Iris: complaint, James: sarcastic remark, but this later evolves. The silent intimacy when Iris helps take James's splinters out is one of my favorite moments from the play. Later he gets more splinters from the dock, but she doesn't offer to take those out. Has he become too needy for her or does she just glaze over his needs this time?
James ends the play saying: "The sound of laughter…the sound that made the world go quiet." Whether ridicule is here identified as a specific causal factor for teenage suicide, or cruelty in all its manifestations, including violence, the teenage world is governed by its own laws and standards. In the party woodshed, an anarchic mob mentality yet unwavering adherence to social hierarchy, where keg stands and brutishness reign, is somehow the locus of this subculture. A girl thrown into farm equipment is described as looking at her hands as though they were "supposed to be bleeding." This barbarism at a time of great vulnerability, adolescence, is accepted as the way of things. Is it an attempt at freedom, or a way out of the lives they feel trapped in? Or are they really looking for a way in, somewhere to be accepted?
The suicide note left by Hilary read "I hope you're happy now." Hilary's mother had passed away, and her father left her most of the time to care for her younger sisters. James paints his fingers with Iris's "cherry bliss" nail polish, which he found in Hilary's room after she had died. He accuses Iris of responsibility for Hilary's death, for not being there for her in a time of need. Iris directs blame at Hilary's father. Ambiguity as to the "cause" of Hilary's suicide, rather than making a blanket claim is I think more honest. If Deutsch provides some indication of the problem generally, it is a gap between oneself and others that to bridge might provide a glimmer of hope.
The immersive wooden dock and tall grass in the scenic design by Eugenia Furneaux-Arends, along with the lighting by Brad Peterson and sound by Janie Bullard, bring us right to the evening lakeside.
Hilary's funeral, and all such funerals in the town, are performed in the gymnasium on the set of the school play. There is something about teen suicide not being taken seriously enough, or seriously addressed. Director Daniel Talbott here offers a dynamic and nuanced exploration of some of the questions that need to be more carefully asked. James identifies with a loon on the lake and insists Iris won't understand why. He later reveals connecting to its cry as one of desperation. James and Iris each shout across the lake "crapping pathetic Friday night!" and there is a joy and release in their eyes. Death will take us all. But if we don't push them away, we have others who will be there with us in the meantime, and make it worthwhile to hang around a bit.