The Pool has nothing to do with swimming. It is, rather, the name for a makeshift collective formed by a trio of playwrights who took a plunge. Tired of waiting for other companies to realize their works, the three decided to share resources and embark on a Kickstarter campaign that would allow them to act as their own producers. They surpassed their $25,000 goal in 25 days, raising $26,400 from 285 backers. Their pop-up company now offers three new plays performed in concurrent rotation at the Flea Theater. Different in both style and narrative interest, the pieces nevertheless loosely share similar themes about individuals striving to forge better lives — or, at the very least, dreaming about achieving something better. It’s appropriate that such ambitions come to the fore, given that the endeavor of the Pool itself reflects the playwrights’ aspirations to lift their works off the page and bring them to vivid life on the stage.
Best among the bunch is Tania in the Getaway Van, Susan Bernfield’s thoughtful and tender look at Laura, an awkward eleven-year-old girl who confusedly witnesses her mother, Diane, struggle to complete a higher education, enter the workplace, and, amid all that, somehow manage to be a good mom. Set in the mid-Seventies, the play depicts women and girls grappling with evolving notions of female identity. Laura’s naive fantasies about Patricia Hearst — the kidnapped heiress briefly radicalized into an “urban guerrilla” known as Tania — deftly suggest the perplexities of those changing times, an ambivalence underscored by director Portia Krieger’s pre-show screening of sexist TV commercials from the period. Later, the story unexpectedly leaps ahead to 2012 to reveal what becomes of Laura and Diane and also to comment upon the roles that subsequent generations of women have chosen (or have been chosen) to assume in this new century. Heading a capable cast, Annie McNamara gradually brightens in face, voice, and attitude to illuminate Diane’s dawning awareness of her potential.
Washed Up on the Potomac is Lynn Rosen’s comedy about three lackadaisical proofreaders at a Washington, D.C., ad agency who grind upon one another’s nerves even as they worriedly follow reports that a missing co-worker’s corpse may have popped up in a nearby river. Mark is a would-be novelist who is crushed on Kate, a strident wannabe rock star who constantly plays air guitar. Sherri is a woebegone drudge oppressed by her mother. They and several others from the office wind up that evening in a dive club where their dreams scarcely come true. If the play’s surreal conclusion mystifies more than satisfies, Rosen’s bantering chitchat and the snappy enacting of it, etched through José Zayas’s sharp direction, maintains viewer interest for a fleeting eighty minutes.
In The Rafa Play, Peter Gil-Sheridan madly conjures up a très-gay fantasy that imagines his own storybook marriage to the glamorous tennis superstar Rafael Nadal. Peter’s initially blissful relationship with Rafa dissolves into a nightmare driven by a hateful mother-in-law, a predatory coach, and other hangers-on. Overlong and terribly silly, the farce is bolstered by the campy pleasures of director Morgan Gould’s staging, which cultivates hothouse performances amid a blizzard of tennis balls.
All three shows benefit from the minimal yet smart scenic designs provided by Devin August Petersen, who makes strategic use of the gray brick arches of the Flea’s fifty-seat Siggy space, which is built out of the remaining foundations of an eighteenth-century structure formerly on the venue’s site. The varied lighting created by Christina Watanabe contributes to the atmospheres of these aptly staged and neatly performed works. Acting as producers, the authors certainly have done elegantly by their plays.
The Pool: Tania in the Getaway Van, Washed Up on the Potomac, The Rafa Play
The Flea Theater
20 Thomas Street
Through December 16