The main course of Death by Water, by the American-Canadian performance troupe Bluemouth Inc., is a 30-minute pas de deux inspired by Noh movement and just plain silliness. Simple enough, but this canny gang ratchets up the difficulty by performing outdoors, in February, mostly in the dark. On the night of this review, the dance took place in about three inches of snow in Fort Greene Park. At the show’s most dangerous moment, performer Stephen O’Connell somersaults down an icy embankment—several times. Performing three shows a night, they’ve clearly got physical hardiness, not to mention striking good looks. But they’re not quite as skilled at wrangling text, presenting an amalgam of Kurosawa, Lynch, T.S. Eliot, and The Tibetan Book of the Dead that never quite rises above the level of atmosphere, though bits of plot from each source flow through the piece.
Bluemouth are a little too fond of stasis, but clever enough to make fun of themselves before it gets dull—it’s tempting to credit their Canuck faction. Richard Windeyer’s sound design, heard on headphones in a sort of chuppah that the group has assembled in the park, does a lot to turn the ambience into a source of pleasure. By equipping the actors with radio mikes, he enables the boxed-in audience to hear the cast’s whispered lines, their feet crunching through the snow, and their labored breathing amid an eerie soundtrack. Before the piece, the audience assembles in a funeral parlor up the street—very strange if you’re the first to arrive. Not much performance happens there, though, mostly a faux home movie installed in a picture frame. Daniel Pettrow, in character as a cowboy, then transports selected audience members to the park in a rickshaw while Japanese film music blares from a speaker inside his saddlebag. In the end, Death by Water feels slightly less like a show than a beautiful, pleasantly odd experience.