NY Theater Review by Sonia Roberts
Jacuzzis are mostly warm and inviting, but they can also be menacing. They can take care of your sore muscles, or they can suck you in and drown you, or be full of festering diseases. The Debate Society’s Jacuzzi lives up to most of these characteristics, unfolding a group of characters that are starved for love, yet constantly test their boundaries.
Walking into the theater, you want to touch and snoop through absolutely everything in Laura Jellinek’s incredibly realistic and detailed set. This Colorado ski chalet has been in the family for quite some time and is saturated with memories, from a collection of VHS tapes to an itty bitty child-size rocking chair by the fireplace. Reflections off the Jacuzzi cast pretty patterns on the angled ceiling, making you wish you were in that water watching those dancing spiderwebs of light.
When the play begins, there’s a woman (Hannah Bos) and a man (Paul Thureen) in the hot tub, reading the same book. They’re not supposed to be there, but they certainly seem to feel at home. They’re interrupted by the arrival of a freezing Bo (Chris Lowell), an over privileged 26 year-old (“I had an internship once”) whose father is paying him to visit. He didn’t expect to find Helene and Derek there, but then again, he did arrive a day early so it would be natural to find renters there, right? Sure. But why would someone so rich bother with renters? Bo isn’t that quick, so, a safe assumption. He joins the couple in the Jacuzzi and in no time is guzzling his father’s best wine and spilling his guts about his parents’ recent divorce and mentions that he did something really bad in Romania.
The next day, Robert (Peter Friedman) arrives, delighted that the Jacuzzi has been installed – a moment he’s been waiting for quite some time and finally gets to enjoy now that he’s won the house in the divorce settlement. Unfortunately, the installation of the tub hasn’t rid the house of all the reminders of his ex-wife, from expensive collectible snowshoes to Bo’s adorable baby cowboy boots, and Helene and Erik (nope, his name isn’t Derek, like Bo thought it was, but we know better) are just so nice and eager to help that Robert hires them to help pack it all up and get it out of there.
Over the next few days, we find out just how lonely both Robert and Bo are, how horrible to each other they’ve been (Robert and his ex-wife, both psychologists, used to throw “parties” for Bo that were actually tests using the children as guinea pigs) and how much they really need each other right now. Helene and Erik’s presence makes them confront their demons and figure out how to move on. But Erik has also disconnected and hidden the satellite dish cord, and he and Helene both have told many a lie about their troubled childhoods and shrugged them off with brave faces. There’s also a mysterious voicemail from the maintenance company on the answering machine apologizing for “the situation with Helene Douglass,” so clearly something’s up, but what is it?
Bos and Thureen leave a lot unanswered in the script, and it’s effective apart from major plot points that seemed to go over most audience members’ heads. Why are Helene and Erik doing what they’re doing? Who are they really? What was the really bad thing Bo did in Romania? More answers would have been great, if at least more hints. The performances are excellent all around and the actors have impeccable comedic timing, particularly Bos and Friedman, but the play begins to drag as the lies multiply and all the audience really wants to know is the truth. Director Oliver Butler makes terrific use of the narrow space, using offstage and “outside” areas whenever possible to enhance the reality of an isolated house in the mountains.
And isolated it is. So you better watch out, because Erik might have just accidentally-on-purpose put the snowmobile out of commission. But don’t worry, because “Erik’s really good with stuff like that.”
*Photos: Ben Arons
By The Debate Society
Written by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen
Directed and Developed by Oliver Butler
Featuring Hannah Bos, Peter Friedman, Chris Lowell and Paul Thureen
Running through November 1st at Ars Nova
Tickets can be purchased at www.arsnovanyc.com