Edna, an affectless 23-year-old in the midst of a grimy quarter-life crisis, draws on a series of pickup lines found nowhere in The Game. At a local bar, she waylays Drake (the fetching Brian Henderson), a preening essayist. She first acquaints him with her affection for Dr. Joyce Brothers (“I find her vibrant sense of blame refreshing”) and her belief that women who use hand lotion should be whipped bloody. Then, swigging from her bottle of Rolling Rock, she proposes coitus with the allurement “You remind me of my dead brother. I’m trying to fuck him back to life.” “Should we leave now?” Drake replies.
While Edna (Laura Heisler) has a definite flair for securing joyless one-night stands with mediocre writers, the rest of her life isn’t nearly such a success. She’s alienated from her parents, her adored brother has died in a terrorist attack, and she’s working as a personal assistant to a personal assistant, the irremediably perky Beth (the wonderful Colleen Werthmann). She manages the needs of a six-year-old scion and favors phrasings such as “Hey, I’m going to say something” and “I like your spirit!” Beth runs a tight, hypoallergenic ship, unlike Edna, who neglects to perform her duties with appropriately slavish devotion and, as the play progresses, refuses to bathe.
Elizabeth Meriwether’s discomfiting comedy concerns ablutophobia—the fear of washing. Edna’s brother Buddy (Thomas Sadoski) had once spent several grubby weeks living in her bathtub, and he seems to have infected Edna with his neurosis. Buddy has equated ablution with absolution. He’s seen terrible events in the Mideast— events that he, as a Westerner, feels some culpability for. Since he can’t absolve himself, he can’t bear to bathe. In a flashback, he explains to Edna, “You’re going to take a shower and everything will fall off of you, everything that stuck to you. . . . You can let yourself be clean, you can do that.”
Buddy’s words aren’t unaffecting, but Meriwether’s comedy fares better when it concentrates on the inanities of office politics or the vagaries of writer seduction; the portraits of mental illness emerge more awkwardly. Heisler, who charts Edna’s drifts from ennui to hysteria in her mournful, froggy voice, delivers a knockout turn in the final scene. But the histrionic culmination—a Handi-Wipe cleansing that effectively puts the bath into bathetic—seems at odds with the rest of the play. Meriwether is warmhearted and wants to offer her character a chance at catharsis, but the serious moments don’t have the brash indelibility of the lighter ones (cf. Drake’s accusation that Edna is looking at him as though she hates him, and Edna’s deadpan reply, “No, no, I’m just clinically depressed. This is my default face”).
The members of Radiohole, a performance company whose beer-soaked corps may indeed suffer from ablutophobia, aren’t displaying too cheerful a face themselves. While their last show, Radiohole Is Still My Name, was a slapdash Spaghetti-O western romp, their latest, the Melvillean Fluke (Solemn Mysteries of the Ancient Order of the Deep) or Dick Dick Dick, feels waterlogged. We may indeed have believed that Radiohole could put on a kickass show with their eyes closed, but they’ve now attempted it and the results are middling. Their blindness, a bravura effect courtesy of Wite-Out and eyeliner, compels them to a positively methodical pace. They’ve turned from madcap to meditative. Certainly, Maggie Hoffman and Erin Douglass, attired in life vests and corsets, are as creepily gamine as ever—complemented by Eric Dyer as a beer-gutted Ahab—but the deliberateness dissipates their manic charms. There’s no call to subject Radiohole to the harsh condemnation of Melville’s most famous lines, “There she blows! There she blows!” but Fluke is a hump we look forward to seeing them get over.