by Jona Tarlin · October 17, 2014
The Debate Society gets the Jacuzzi out of the way early in their new play, Jacuzzi, featuring a real, working, Jacuzzi on stage. It’s a wonderful bit of stagecraft they address head on, having the characters soak, bubble, and splash within the first fifteen minutes. After it has been established that yes, that Jacuzzi oggled on the way into the completely reconfigured Ars Nova theater is real, they can get to the real stagecraft, story.
What they deliver is a wonderful play, dripping with atmosphere, which left me puzzling what had occurred my entire journey home. It would be a disservice to reveal any more than the bare minimum of plot as one of the delights of the play, and The Debate Society’s work in general, is the way they slowly unfold their story and characters. Names shift, family histories change, and suddenly what seemed like an innocent ski-weekend at a rental house is something much more sinister.
Jacuzzi is Pinteresque, but not in the usual way. They have absorbed his sense of creeping menace, while avoiding his staccato dialogue and lack of back story. Instead what they present is something so rich and lived-in that everyone seemed to have inhabited their roles for a lifetime. This is a reflection on their working method, the play having been written over the course of many workshops, developed as a company by two of the actors in the piece, Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen, and the director, Oliver Butler.
You probably want to know what this play’s about (other than a Jacuzzi) so here’s what I’ll say: Helene and Derek (or is it Eric) are caretakers of Robert’s ex-wife’s family cabin, a place Robert (Peter Friedman) has won in the divorce. He has paid his son, Bo (né Bobby) to join him there for the town’s big winter festival, which features a number of themed ski events. Bo (Chris Lowell) arrives a night early, disturbing Helene and Derek’s (or is it Troy's) soak. What follows is, well, great, and scary, and better than a working Jacuzzi on stage (I know! I know!).
If I had to pick a fight with anything (and I don’t, really) it would be that the voiceover moments in the form of diary entries that served to bridge scenes often overstated something that was already assumed in the narrative. Having my suspicions confirmed helped to guide the narrative along, but ultimately felt out of place in the naturalism (the Jacuzzi works!) of the rest of the piece.
The Debate Society knows how to create something uniquely theatrical and with Jacuzzi they have crafted a puzzle box that I am still, gleefully, unpacking.