Steep Theatre presents the U.S. premiere of WASTWATER.
Playwright Simon Stephens and Steep team up again to deliver their signature British angst. This time, Stephens provides three separate scenarios in his play, WASTWATER. Each scenario has a character facing a life-changing decision. Stephens’ set-up feels like three one-act plays. Listening closely, the audience determines the casual thread connecting one character to another. And even the close proximity to the airport gives a similar backdrop tethering stories together. Taking several steps back to look at the play as a whole, we see a thought-provoking, gut-punching, cringe-worthy difference between the first story and the last story. Both Joel Boyd and Caroline Neff leave the same foster home and choose polar-opposite life paths.
Under the skillful direction of Robin Witt, the play starts slow and builds the stakes to scary heights. Joel Boyd is getting ready to leave his foster mother played by Melissa Riemer. Their sweet relationship has loving reciprocity. They are both concerned about the other’s well-being. Reimer is worried that Boyd is sockless and will be cold. Boyd worries Riemer has cut the back of her leg. There is a sadness at their parting but the interaction is fairly unemotional. It’s like getting on a roller coaster and the first part of the ride is a pleasant, uneventful coast.
In the second part, Nick Horst and Kendra Thulin are in a hotel room. They are about to have sex. Thulin is nervous. Horst is trying to ease her anxiety. They are both married to other people, a familiar yet interesting plot. Our ride starts climbing in anticipated excitement. They both share bits and pieces of what has gotten them to this intimate tryst. At the peak, we think we see where this is going. We don’t! The ride plummets as a dynamic Thulin shares and overshares her past. Her storytelling is riveting and takes us up and down hills and whips around curves. The ride has gone WTF wild and we grip uneasily onto something to see what Horst will do next. At this point on the ride, I’m slightly queasy and feeling off-balanced from everything I’ve experienced.
In the third part, Caroline Neff and Peter Moore are negotiating a transaction. A fierce Neff reduces Moore to a sniveling shell of a man. An unemotional Neff is frightening in her ruthlessness. As we piece together what is really being negotiated, the palpable cruelty is sickening. By the time this ride completely ended, I was wobbly, disgusted and desperate in need of fresh air.
WASTWATER is what Steep does best. It’s a dark, disturbing examination of humanity. In Wastwater, the Steep-Witt team gently beckons us into lives unfolding on stage. Once we’re fully present, they stop coddling us. They force us to experience the brutal consequences of life choices. They make us helplessly witness how bad someone can be.
Running Time: One hour and forty minutes with no intermission
Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn
Written by Simon Stephens
Directed by Robin Witt
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm
Sundays at 3pm
EXTENDED Thru August 27th
Tickets are currently on sale at www.steeptheatre.com
Photos by Gregg Gilman and Lee Miller
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