Sunday, November 28, 2021

"Jacuzzi" by Dark and Stormy Productions at a found space in Stillwater

If you're looking for a palate cleanser to all of the holiday fare in #TCTheater this year, which can often skew towards the sickly sweet, look no further than Dark and Stormy Productions, which returns to the stage, er, hot tub, with the kind of dark comedy that has become their trademark. In Jacuzzi, the story of a couple of con artists preying on a gullible and dysfunctional father/son duo plays out over 100 minutes or so in and around an actual jacuzzi filled with actual water. It doesn't get much more site-specific than that. This is a great time of the year to visit lovely river-side Stillwater for holiday shopping, dinner at one of the numerous great restaurants, and some great and intimate theater (continuing through December 19).

The play begins with voice messages hinting at some sort of mystery, while a couple (Darius Dotch and Artistic Director Sara Marsh) climbs into a hot tub. It's not clear who they are or what they're doing there, but the story slowly unfolds over the course of the play, although it still leaves room for wondering. The couple is soon interrupted by a young man named Bo (Paul LaNave), who says this is his father's place, and assumes that the couple is renting the house. They go along with it, and bond over the jacuzzi and alcohol, although it's clear to the audience, if not to Bo, that they're playing him. The next day Bo's dad Robert (Clint Allen), a well-know psychologist and author dealing with an ugly divorce, shows up and assumes the couple, who are calling themselves Erik and Helene, are the people he hired to fix up the place. They go along with that too, present him with a bill, and continue to fix (or break) things around the house, run errands for him, and help him pack up items belonging to his ex-wife. Robert and Bo have some serious issues to work out from their past, as well as Bo's troubled present, and Helene and Erik continue to manipulate the situation. Still, it's unclear who the "bad guy" is here; Robert and Bo are pretty awful in their own ways too. That's part of the the fun of it.

Erik (Darius Dotch), Bo (Paul LaNave), and Helene
(Sara Marsh) get to know each other (photo by Bryce Johnson)
I love any sense of reality that's brought to the stage, whether it's eating real food, or accomplishing mundane tasks like folding laundry, and you can't get much more real than everyone in the cast stripping down and getting into a hot tub multiple times throughout the play. The jacuzzi is where all of the drama plays out, as if the hot water pulls out the hidden truth (or elaborate lies). We're supposed to be in a ski chalet in Colorado, which you can see in this Stillwater office building if you squint your eyes, with the wooden beams, big windows, and snow shoes hanging on the wall. It's set in the early '90s, for no reason other than to explain the answering machine and era-appropriate bad fashion, including some pretty colorful ski outfits (costume design by Mel Day).

Erik (Darius Dotch) and Robert (Clint Allen)
(photo by Bryce Johnson)
Director Matt Anderson keeps the tone pretty light and humorous, with some dark creepy elements as we wonder just what "Helene" and "Erik" are up to. In the up-close-and-personal intimate setting, everyone in this excellent four-person cast is very natural and real (except when they're subtly being fake), and all seem totally comfortable stripping down to swimsuits and climbing into the jacuzzi, then out of it soaking wet. They don't seem cold, so I'll assume the water is at a comfortably warm temperature (and honestly looks pretty appealing coming out of the gorgeously cold and crisp Minnesota night). The hot tub of it all could become a gimmick, but it's not, it just adds a level of reality to this bizarrely entertaining story.

It feels wonderful to welcome back another #TCTheater, especially Dark and Stormy, which fills the niche of small cast, one act, intense, dark, sometimes funny plays. They're celebrating their 10th season next year, which I'm hoping will include the "ghost show" Doubt, which was scheduled to open in April of 2020. In the meantime, Jacuzzi is a great excuse to visit Stillwater to take in all that the charming touristy town has to offer, plus some darkly funny theater (click here for info and tickets).