A common topic of interest between the two creative organizations to which I belong — the Directors Guild of America and the Drama Desk — is today’s curious intersection of Hollywood and Broadway. Like many others, I question whether this exchange has helped or hindered the craft of theater. So I was greatly intrigued by the premise of Jane Martin’s H2O, in which a franchise celebrity is given the opportunity to perform Hamlet on Broadway with the selection of his Ophelia made part of his package.
Our leading man is a troubled soul named Jake, who stumbled into the role of cash cow “Dawnwalker” and has been feeling like a fraud ever since. So empty does he find his success, that when we first meet him in the opening moments of this drama, he is in the process of slitting his wrists. His suicide attempt is thwarted by the timely entrance of Ophelia hopeful Deborah, an Evangelical Christian who believes Jesus commands her to do His work by performing Shakespeare.
For the next 80 minutes these two collide and blend. As brought to life by Alex Podulke and Diane Mair, they are by turns heartbreaking and funny. Mr. Poldulke turns in the more powerful performance, in large part because he has a stronger backstory to draw from. Ms. Mair has some trouble bringing about the delicate balance of vulnerability and strength her character requires, especially since she has to literally strip in front of the audience multiple times.
West Hyler’s direction is fast-moving and effective. A doorway, table and trap door serve as most of the minimal ever-changing set. None of the staging would be possible without the hard work of the fleet-footed “Essentials”: Anna Schovaers, Colin Wulff, Annie Winneg, Charlie Munn and Jacob Waldron. Ninja-like in black, they dress actors, move set pieces, and whisk items from sight in support of the story.
With such a fascinating premise and so much talent, I wish that H2O had more to say. There is something oddly unsatisfying about the conclusion. Nevertheless, for those interested in conversations about faith, fate, luck, merit, and the possibility of salvation, there is enough here to be worthy of your time.
H2O, Presented by Ground Up Productions, is playing at 59E59 Street Theaters through December 13. For tickets and information visit http://www.59e59.org/moreinfo.php?showid=226.