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Foot of Water

Foot of Water offers shallow view of sex

Photo: Getting wet in <em>foot of water </em>, License: N/A

Getting wet in foot of water

Aldo Pantoja

Foot of Water

Single Carrot Theatre

Through July 8

Sex is cliche. With the potential exceptions of teledildonics and robot-fucking, whatever we do or say in the sack has been done and said billions of times before. For every one of the seven billion of us in the world, two people got down and dirty—and that’s just the straight, no-birth-control banging.

But it is meaningful because everyone of those people is different. The exciting thing about sex is that it butts the universal against the particular, the archetypical, and the personal.

Single Carrot Theatre’s original ensemble creation, Foot of Water, attempts to address these issues. It is a bold experiment: After all, everyone considers oneself an expert in sex. According to Single Carrot’s web site, Foot of Water attempts to look at humans “as purely sexual beings.”

As a result, the play takes place in this weird space. The stage itself is beautiful and clever, a gazebo/shower (with running water) and a marble water trough are the central features, indicating from the start that water will be the central metaphor for sex. (The staff advises patrons to use the bathroom, because “of all the water we use,” and informs the audience that mats will be placed on the ground afterwards to ensure a safe exit)

So it’s not just the physical space that’s weird, but also the psychological one. When the actors—a group of young men with shaved heads and no shirts and two women— come onstage, in a giggling, mad frolic, it feels as if you’ve walked into a party where the young kids are taking some drug you’ve never heard of in a place where there are no parents, like a wild cross between Jean Cocteau’s Les Enfants Terribles and Where the Wild Things Are.

The story, such as it is, consists of a largely metaphorical account of the sexual maturation of a girl named Hylas (Alix Fenhagen). She really likes to splash in the water alone, but also has flirtatious dalliances with each of the male actors, while a narrator (Jessica Garrett) talks about balloons and waves, and occasionally joins in the action. It could have been called a Midsummer Night’s Wet Dream.

Quickly, however, it feels like there’s little more than a sticky puddle to show for all the giggling and frolicking—all water, no fire. After a couple minutes, I was wondering if the giggle-chorus would ever cease. But when it did, and the speaking began, I almost preferred the giggles.

Single Carrot has done well with process ensemble-derived productions before, as in 2008’s Sects and Violins, but that was a collection of short skits. An hour-long play has greater need for an authorial voice in order to have compelling dialogue, especially in relation to sex. And with lines like “Love is like a balloon”—spoken by the narrative voice in the same town-crier way that director Ben Hoover must have demanded of all the actors—this play certainly could have used that authorial voice.

The actors delved as deeply as they could into their parts; they just didn’t have far to go. Because they were acting out primal archetypes and universal themes, most of the lines could be bad pop-song metaphors for sex—which are the stuff of ritual, not drama. In the end, the play feels like a parody of 20th century avant-garde theater.

According to Hoover’s director’s note, the play grew out of a number of workshops and trainings in the theories of Jerzy Grotowski, a Polish director and theorist who created the idea of “Poor Theatre,” which attempted to strip away everything but the mystical relation between the actor and the spectator. It was from these Grotowski workshops that the Single Carrot crew came up with the idea of using ritual to address their original idea of the “sociology of sex.”

The combination of Grotowski’s focus on rituals and a sociological view of sexuality strips away everything particular—and interesting—about sex. Even the average 20-year-old dancer on the Block knows how to play up the particularities of her personality to make the naughty bits more interesting.

The strange thing is that the ritualization of sexuality comes off as both blunt and coy. Take, for instance, the, um, single carrot. The theater warns the viewer that there will be full-frontal nudity. Elliott Raugh bravely displays his wares, but to very little purpose. He is nude for the climactic scene where all of the foreplay becomes penetration. Except of course, this is a play, and it doesn’t. And because Raugh is nude, it is obvious that it doesn’t as his unaroused penis flops around a few inches below the clothed crotch of the woman he is supposed to be penetrating. Had they both been wearing some kind of clothes, it would have been far more convincing. The nudity seems to be an attempt to make a timid work appear bold. Without it, this would be a fine play to teach children about sexuality, since it offers up an essentially childish view.

We’ve loved Single Carrot over the years, awarding them with numerous Best of awards, and they do a great job with bringing Murder Ink to the stage. So, we hope Foot of Water is an experiment that didn’t quite come off, but which might make the theater better in the future. For now, if you’re looking for intellectual or sexual stimulation, you’ll need more than a Foot of Water.

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