Searing Examination (Little Observation)

I stumbled upon out gay Mark Ravenhill’s breakthrough “Shopping and Fucking” in London in 1996, drawn by the then-outrageous title only to find a terrific play with an even more provocative plot about drug dealing and gay teen prostitution. It was a knife to the anus — literally, for one character.

Ravenhill’s 2002 “Mother Clap’s Molly House” at the National Theatre about cross-dressing 17th century male prostitutes illuminated some lost history in a less compelling drama. And we saw him at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn last year on stage interviewing the legendary Bette Bourne, of Bloolips fame, about his life and art in a scripted exchange that could have done with more spontaneity, but was nevertheless historically valuable.

“pool (no water),” a 2006 work, is making its American premier at the little 9th Space and is in many ways perhaps his darkest work, not by using shocking language but by getting inside the heads of people like us who can collectively go bad when an opportunity presents itself. I saw it on a Saturday afternoon that might be described as “theater (no audience),” as the five game players performed for about ten of us.

The play just got a money review from the New York Times that ought to guarantee life for it beyond its current run through May 26, but there were still seats available online at this writing on May 19. Perhaps that is because it holds a mirror up to how easily we can succumb to base motives when we are trying to survive –– but in this case, not survive something life-threatening, just the drift into irrelevance.

“pool” opens promisingly with the actors already arrayed on the stage warming up, their faces projected onto screens that are really the tops of upright benches put to clever multiple uses as the only set. The plot turns on a successful member of their circle who has a horrendous accident and how the envious friends try to make something profitable out of her calamity.

Not to give too much away, but projections are not employed again, even though I was longing for them given the fact that the characters—a group of youngish artists—are engaged in a loathsome video art project. To the credit of the ensemble ––Estelle Bajou, Christopher Baker, Christina Bennett Lind, Nick Flint, and Richard Saudek –– they create this drama just with their human instruments over 60 minutes of cerebral engagement under the direction of Ianthe Demos.

Ravenhill’s script is smart, trenchant and unsparing, but this is more a story told to us –– often in a soporific rhythm –– than a riveting drama. There are some diverting characterizations, but the focus is on getting us into their sick little heads –– and ultimately into our own, as we struggle with our consciences in response to temptations, especially while part of a cohesive group.

Still and all, Ravenhill continues to be one of the most original writers for the stage today. Easily worth the 25 bucks.

POOL (NO WATER) | One Year Lease Theater Company | 9th Space | 150 First Ave. at 9th St. | May 19, 20 & 26 at 2:30 p.m.; May 19, 22-26 at 7:30 p.m. | $25 | or 212-352-3101