In the theater, goes a contrarian dictum of David Mamet’s, there are no such things as characters; there’s only what the actors do and say. For the two non-characters grappling at the center of Lee Blessing’s engaging new play A Body of Water, the catch is that nothing they do or say sticks for very long. Stricken with the sort of lingering amnesia that only turns up in drama, an attractive middle-aged pair wake up next to each other every day in a posh summer house without the slightest idea of who they are.
This doesn’t seem such a bad gig, actually, and as played by Christine Lahti and Michael Cristofer, this odd couple stokes a lovely, blue-flamed heat that suggests a well-worn familiarity—a shared muscle memory that belies their conscious forgetfulness. But if their puzzling out their predicament has a teasing, romantic-comedy playfulness, both actors also tune into a rising hum of hurt and worry that never quite subsides, even with the daily memory drain. A third wheel eventually rolls on, filling out if not straightening this would-be family portrait. Endowed by Laura Odeh with the special irritation loved ones reserve for one another, this interloper plays spoiler and nursemaid in turn.
Though on some level this remains a playwriting exercise, it’s executed with craft and feeling, and sensitively directed by Maria Mileaf. At bottom, A Body of Water makes a bracing and uniquely theatrical dive into the murk of identity and memory.