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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
With Jacuzzi the Debate Society's Hannah Bos, Paul Thureen and Oliver Butler have symbolically and literally dived into this Pinteresque blueprint. The title prop is filled with water (in case you need proof, I was hit by a bit of a splash at one point) and all four actors spend a good deal of the ninety minutes in the water. (All wear shorts, so don't expect nudity).
The first people we see in the hot tub smack in the middle of Laura Jellnick's cozy, memorabilia filled Colorado mountaintop ski lodge living room are Hannah and Derek (Bos and Thureen who are also credited as the piece's main writers). Except for the fact that her lower arm is in a cast there's nothing especially menacing about them. In fact, they seem quite relaxed and at home, with some discussion of the books they are reading and things they have to do. But make no mistake about it, Jacuzzi is loaded with menace and mystery (for starters, why is that hot tub in the living room), and could in fact be classified as a mystery thriller.
The first interruption in this tranquil scene comes via several messages in the answering machine that Eric gets out of the tub to delete. There's also the obviously unanticipated arrival of a young man who turns out to be Bo (Chris Lowell), the son of the ski chalet's owner. He's nervous and apologetic about arriving early. He also can't quite understand the other two people's presence, and his puzzlement is catching. The audience too senses that something's a bit off here.
By the time Robert (Peter Friedman) arrives, and Bo learns that the couple he assumed were friends or renters are hired care takers, he will have spent a night drinking and chatting in the hot-tub with them. And Derek now calls himself Erik
As we get to know Robert we learn that a bitter divorce has made him the winner in the battle for custody of the chalet. This has also freed him to install the jacuzzi he's always wanted. His reason for spending the weekend at his hard won retreat at this playground of the very wealthy (to which Robert as a psychologist turned best-selling author belongs), is three-fold: 1. To fulfill the divorce settlement's demand to pack up send all the stuff collected and owned by his ex-wife to her 2. To take part in the resort's annual Rendezvous weekend, a fund raising tribute to the area's historic past 3. and to spend some quality time with his Bo who has grown from problem child to problem adult.
As Robert's Colorado weekend is something of a three-legged stool, so is the mystery the writers have concocted. The themes they unravel touch on exposing the emotional and moral fault lines in the lives of both the rich and the less purposeful and prosperous they employ to care for them and their possessions. Having them interact in a setting with a long history of shifting power structures, adds another dimension to the play.
Since mysteries are best seen without knowing too many plot details, suffice it to say that the Debate Society team has managed to make all these themes coalesce. I urge you, however, to play close attention to ever bit of business, the excellent actors' body language as well as words. Be especially attentive to the occasional Voice Overs by Helene who, as subtly portrayed by Hannah Bos,makes us aware that there's more to Helene's smiling helpfulness than meets the eye.
But good as Bos is, the entire ensemble is right on the money with keenly expressed performances. For all the clever complexities, there are a couple of things that are just a bit too puzzling. I also would have liked the writers to figure out a way to clarify the mystery with a less facile device than those voice-overs. These rough edges notwithstanding, the excellence of this cast and crew. insures that you'll be entertainingly perplexed.