A man’s return visit to the wife and children he left behind seventeen years ago yields unexpected consequences in The Water’s Edge, Theresa Rebeck’s gripping family drama (with a twist), now getting a sensational Los Angeles Premiere at North Hollywood’s The Road Theatre under the inspired direction of Sam Anderson.

 The Water’s Edge is one of those plays about which the less you know what’s in store, the more you will enjoy its twists and turns. This review will therefore attempt to stay mum on just how Rebeck’s twisted plot unfolds beyond its opening setup, in hopes that theatergoers will simply take it on faith that The Water’s Edge is yet another Road production not to be missed.

The arrival of 50ish Richard (Albie Selznick) and his much younger girlfriend Lucy (Lauren Birriel) at the lakeside house he once shared with Helen (Nicole Farmer) and their children comes as more than a bit of a surprise to now 26-year-old Nate (Patrick Rieger) and 22-year-old Erica (Paris Perrault), though Richard insists that he has informed Helen of his plans to visit. Though Nick seems relatively open to (at the very least) offering his father and Lucy some iced tea with milk, Erica wants nothing to do with the man she accuses of having abandoned his family without a single backward glance. Richard retorts that he’s been sending Helen monthly checks for the past seventeen years, though admittedly those checks can’t have set him back all that much given his apartment in New York, his townhouse in Philadelphia, and his condos in Saint Baart and Telluride (not to mention a share in a Lear Jet). As for not having seen or contacted either Nate or Erica since their childhood, well that has been at Helen’s insistence, or so Richard maintains.

Once he and Helen have been left alone, Richard reveals the reason for his visit. The house Helen and their children have been living in for the past seventeen years is his. It’s the house he grew up in, and he wants it back. He will gladly give Helen a place to live, and money as well. But Richard wants the house back, and he’s not going to take no for an answer.

As for what happens next, this reviewer’s lips are sealed. Suffice it to say that that playgoers are in for some edge-of-your-seat theater—and one lollapalooza of a denouement.

 Though her greatest success has come as writer/producer of TV hits like Law and Order: Criminal Intent and NYPD Blue, Theresa Rebeck has been writing for the stage since her first play, Spike Heels, debuted in 1990. L.A. theatergoers may recall Rebeck as the author of the con-game thriller Mauritius, whose multiple Scenie-winning West Coast Premiere entertained Pasadena Playhouse audiences a few years back. As talented as she is prolific, Rebeck has once again come up with a terrifically theatrical piece in The Water’s Edge.

Among director Anderson’s myriad acting awards are three Best Performance Scenies (for The Bird And Mr. Banks, Madagascar, and Blackbird), and The Water’s Edge at the Road is clearly the work of an actor/director (and actors’ director) who has added extra layers (and a disturbing kiss) to his staging of The Water’s Edge, along with eliciting nuanced, layered work from his stellar cast.

 Like Paul Newman and George Clooney, Selznick is the sort of actor who makes it look so easy that you forget he’s acting, and his performance as the self-centered yet still somehow caring Richard is one of his best. A terrific Farmer combines equal parts steely grit, anger, vulnerability, and pain in her work as Helen, and has an extended eleventh hour monolog that harkens back to classic Greek tragedies. Perrault’s finely tuned transformation from pissed-off to softened-up to freaked-out reveals a young actress to be watched. As for fish-out-of-water Lucy, Birriel not only looks the outsider with her dark hair and Mediterranean coloring, she doesn’t hit a false note as she goes from uncomfortable to disbelieving to shaken to the core. Finally, there is the out-and-out brilliant Rieger, giving a performance sure to be remembered as one of the year’s most stunning and watchable. Without ever overdoing Nate’s oddness, Rieger keeps you wondering whether the 20something might be a tad mentally challenged, or have Asperger’s, or simply be suffering from introversion and social awkwardness. In lesser hands, we might not buy Nate’s actions in the play’s final half hour. In Rieger’s, we believe.

Road Theatre regulars have come to expect bedazzlement from the moment they lay eyes on Desma Murphy’s scenic design, and the set Murphy has created for The Water’s Edge is no exception, an aging country house and its surrounding woods, finely detailed down to the earth that covers the stage floor. Kathi O’Donohue’s lighting is equally exquisite, along with David B. Marling’s superb sound design with its country breezes and distant lake sounds, O’Donohue and Marling convincing us we’re out of doors and not on the second floor of the Lankershim Arts Center. Jocelyn Hublau’s costumes are just-right picks for each character.

Taylor Gilbert and Anderson are executive producers, Suzanne Hunt, Chet Grissom, and Bettina Zacar producers, and Zacar assistant director. Maurie Gonzalez and Carina Winkler are stage managers.

There hasn’t been a Road Theatre opening since last spring’s Pursued By Happiness, giving The Water’s Edge’s arrival at the Road event status. That it happens also to be compelling, entertaining, brilliantly directed, and superbly acted make The Water’s Edge a special event indeed.

The Road Theatre, 5108 Lankershim Bl., North Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
January 20, 2012
Photos: Chris Goss

Comments are closed.