by Cheryl King · May 31, 2014
Playwrights on New Plays #81: Cheryl King comments on Deepest Man at 3LD Art & Technology Center
Deepest Man is billed as a play where “extreme sports, celebrity worship, and new age science collide.” The promotional materials for the show tell us that “Dr Hazzardville Sommers loses his wife in a swimming accident, and then seeks spiritual guidance through a famous television talk show host and the sport of free diving.” I went to the performance expecting to join the rest of the audience in “total immersion in his underwater fantasy world.”
I have to admit, the holograms that appeared in the center of the floor at 3LD Art and Technology Center last night, on the opening night of Deepest Man, were spectacular. Grant McDonald (video design) crafted holographic stacks of monitors, divers, floating women, and blazing images of Dr Hazzardville Sommers with his face in a bowl of water. It was a visual experience I won’t forget anytime soon.
A lot of thought went into the production, directed by Mark Rayment. David Ogle’s set was inventive, and great care was taken with every detail. Even our audience chairs were draped with white fabric, echoing the design in the performing space. The sound design by JoEllen Dolan and Kevin DeYoe was powerful, though occasionally too loud for my taste, but then iPods have destroyed the hearing of half the adult population these days, so that’s perhaps to be expected.
I was less captivated by the script. Despite a surprise ending (which I won’t give away here) I found the premise and story by playwright James Scruggs to be as murky as the water that Dr. Sommers’ wife apparently died in. Having read the promotional materials, I expected the story to have something to do with free diving. But except for the images, and a pedantic voice-over talking about mammalian dive reflex, free diving was given short shrift. At no point did we observe Dr. Sommers, or any of the other characters, talk about free diving. We did, however, watch a fairly impressive display of breath holding, from two angles, due to the magic of holographic imaging.
Scruggs has created five characters--Dr. Hazzardville Sommers, played by Spencer Barros ; Des'Ree Collins, played by Alva Chinn; Doctor/ Rhonda, played by Vienna Carroll; Nurse/ Cedric, played by Miguel Reis; and Nurse/ Marta, played by Libby Skala, for this exploration of survivors’ guilt.
Over the course of the play, we hear tales of a storm in which these characters struggled to stay alive, illuminated by Ayumu Poe Saegusa’s various lighting techniques, including flashlights. Libby Skala, a winsome redhead with a marvelous European accent, provided some comic moments with her description of her art projects - custom-made, personalized crucifixes. A particularly humorous moment came when she spoke of Allah, as she described the physical images of various ideas of God. But the vigor and enthusiasm of the actors was not sufficient to drive this disjointed story –purportedly a study of grief. Even the appearance of these other four characters in Dr. Sommers’ fantasy was never fully explained. At the end of the show, they are gone, who knows where, and we are not any wiser for having witnessed their interaction. Were they all in his head? And if so, why?