January 31, 2023
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Life & Culture

Kitchen Theatre play delves into reliability of memory

A man and a woman wake up dazedly in the same house, each venturing out into the living room to discover that their humble residence is surrounded by water. While perplexed by the large body of water surrounding them, the moment they become aware of the other’s presence initiates a new wave of confusion. They are unrecognizable to the other, but more so than that, they are unrecognizable to themselves.

Lee Blessing’s “A Body of Water” will be performed at Ithaca’s Kitchen Theatre from Feb. 18 through March 8. The play weaves together a mystifying storyline that focuses on a couple, Avis (Carmen Roman) and Moss (James Leaming), who suffer from a severe and enigmatic case of memory loss. They attempt to piece together their circumstances through hypothesizing based on their surroundings, such as when they deduce that they are a married couple from the discovery of a wedding ring. However, the introduction of the play’s third character, Wren (Lesley Gurule), toys with the couple’s memories, often lying about the information she presents to them.

As Moss and Avis attempt to regain their memory and piece together reality, the play explores the reliability of memory. Not only do Moss and Avis struggle to assemble their story, but the audience is left in the same boat as them, wondering and deliberating over the couple’s unusual circumstances as well. With Wren being the only character able to access her own memories, she becomes the sole source of truth in the play. This influences the audience and the couple to rely on her to unearth the hidden truths of the couple’s strange circumstances. The audience is perplexed, since the only information they know of the storyline and the characters is formulated by Wren’s recollections of her own memory.

Gurule said her character was untrustworthy and unreliable in the information she was presenting.

“She was always trying to give the information she thought was most helpful at that particular point in time,” she said. “Sometimes that was true, or there were elements of truth to it.”

Upon her introduction, Wren explains that Moss and Avis are being accused of murdering their daughter, whom they have no recollection of. However, the soundness and believability of the story does not last long, for after constant skepticism and questioning, Wren openly admits to lying about this story. As a result, her credibility as a source of truth falters, leaving the couple and the audience to question her authenticity and trustworthiness.

Despite the couple’s apprehension toward Wren’s credibility, she continues to fill Moss and Avis’ memories by telling them different stories of varying factuality. Moss and Avis allow themselves to be swayed by Wren’s stories in a desperate attempt to uncover their identities.

Emily Jackson, artistic associate director and director of audience services and development at the Kitchen Theatre, said the mysterious tone of the play does not explicitly cause confusion toward its characters and storyline.

“I never feel lost because I feel like the play goes completely in one direction, and then it pulls you in a completely different one,” she said. “It never feels like anyone’s trying to pull one over on you. You just have to figure out the pieces of it.”

Audience member Eric Brooks said the ambiguity of the play’s storyline allows for audiences to make their own inferences about the characters and their circumstances based on personal perception.

“All of the parts fit into some whole which we may not know about,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a play you can apply much linear logic to — you live in the moment of the play.”

Gurule also said it was the playwright’s intent to make the play confusing for audience members.

“It’s a little bit like an abstract painting in a way,” she said. “You look at is an individual and you decide what you’re interpretation of that is. It’s kind of the feeling of this play.”

Although the layering of stories results in no concrete explanation to the audience’s questions, this plot device allows for thought-provoking speculation. The various theories and explanations of different individuals only add to the haunting perplexity of the play. The sheer ambiguity of the storyline leads audiences to reflect upon the reliability of truth and memory, resulting in a play of depth, beauty and mystery — much like a body of water.

Celisa Calacal can be reached at ccalacal@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @celisa_mia