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LA Theater Review

Love Water

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This latest play by Jacqueline Wright—whose previous works often straddle the line between gritty realism and metaphorical abstraction—about the struggle of a young boy and a woman to find love amid an urban wasteland, leans too heavily on the abstract and poetic, thereby losing its theatrical power.

Antonio (Joseph Vega) is cast out by his unloving family: his disturbed mother (Misi Lopez Lecube), his beleaguered father (Chuma Gault), and his indifferent sister (Jessica Martinez). He ends up camping out with another lost soul, Lulu (Alina Phelan), who has retreated to a bedroll in a sewer pipe as she mourns a failed marriage. Injecting a note of magical realism is a narrator (Joshua Wolf Coleman), who oversees the action while suspended above the stage, clad in a full-body cast, and a mysterious homeless man (Colin Campbell), who adopts an egg from the riverbed, which eventually hatches into an equally mysterious woman.

Despite the flurry of language, characters, and story points, not much happens in the play, and the emotional impact of the drama is largely dissipated by Wright's poetic language, which creates a kind of languid distance from the action and characters. The play seems more like a piece of poetry than like a theatrical event—beautiful to listen to but often static and remote. For a writer who has written plays of thunderous theatrical power, this work feels like a momentary pause or even a slight retreat.

The acting is generally solid. Phelan provides an energetic, if somewhat linear, performance. Vega is understated, grounded, and endearing as the young boy, and Dawn Phillips does a nice turn as his teenage crush. Director Dan Bonnell seems to be still in the process of figuring out this piece. Although the staging is serviceable, Bonnell has not effectively mined the emotional undercurrents of the play. There may be a deeper vein of gold here, but neither Wright nor Bonnell has yet uncovered it.

Presented by Ensemble Studio Theatre–LA at and in association with the Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. June 5–July 11. Thu.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (818) 882-6912 or www.openfist.org.

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