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The Water Plays

The Shop at Fort Fringe, 607 New York Ave. NW

Remaining Performances:

Sunday, July 11, at 1:30 p.m.
Thursday, July 15, at 8:15 p.m.
Tuesday, July 20, at 6 p.m.
Saturday, July 24 at 1:30 p.m.

They Say: “What makes the ocean special is it can kill you at any time. Three plays: A man sinks with his feet in cement. Two lovers drift in a rowboat. A woman lost at sea, alone. Drowning is no laughing matter.”

Ian’s Take: Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, playwright (and prior Fringe & Purge contributor) Brett Steven Abelman offers up this triptych of short plays about soul searching in the face of  high-seas demise. The sum total stretches the limits of acceptable Fringe running length at 100 minutes, but starts and finishes strong enough that as long as the Shop at Fort Fringe doesn’t get too sweltering, you’ll probably forgive the production the long, dull lull of its middle third.

Things start off with the show’s pithiest segment, Bathyphobia, a one-man monologue featuring the stream of consciousness of a man (J.W. Crump) descending to the bottom of the sea with his feet encased in cement. The poignant and funny rant gets progressively less lucid and increasingly impressionistic as he sinks to inky depths and the pressure and oxygen deprivation take its toll on his rational mind.

This is followed by the somewhat tedious The Water First, in which a couple (Tiffany Garfinkle and Nick Jordan) spends what feels like six months in a boat we wish was leaky, dancing around undefined events in their past that have led them to this point. There’s only so long that you can sustain this kind of mysterious dialog, which drops progressive hints about Cam’s criminal actions and Drea’s illness, and the play runs about twice as long as that. Everything is revealed in the end, but by that time you’ll have pieced it together for yourself and long since hoped the star-crossed pair had jumped overboard.

Up last is Dolphinless, the show’s most complex, visually inventive, and strongest portion, about a party girl who wakes up alone in the water after she either fell overboard or the yacht she was on succumbed to stormy seas; she was too inebriated at the time to recall. A life vest is keeping her afloat, saving her for, as she laments, “a short, blunt life of terror.” Aishie (a fierce and funny Bridget Garwood) debates herself, the imagined visages of her big sister and her older self, and even the sea itself as to whether she should bother trying to make it to shore to return to the failings of her life or just slip out of the flotation device and end it all now.

In all three plays, Abelman floods his scripts with water-bound metaphors: the water as escape, as limitless possibility, as inescapable wasteland, dangerous and infinite. He balances the symbolism with enough humor to keep it from taking itself too seriously or being too overbearing; it just might have been a good idea to cut the middle segment.

See It If: The melancholy-yet-menacing siren song of the sea calls to you. Or you’re just a bargain hunter looking for the best minutes-per-dollar deals that Fringe has to offer.

Skip It If: You always thought Meat Loaf was kind of full of it when he claimed that “Two out of three ain’t bad.”