‘At Black Lake’ Fails to Deliver Emotional Payoff

At Black Lake featuring Heather Benton and Chris J. Cancel-Pomales, April Sweeney and Darrell Stokes, background Photo credit Walls Trimble

Heather Benton and Chris J. Cancel-Pomales with April Sweeney and Darrell Stokes in the background.

Reviewed by Audrey Weinbrecht

Four years after their children are lost in a terrible tragedy, married couple Else and Johnny return to Black Lake, the home of Cleo and Eddie and the scene of the disaster. Over the next several days, the couples grapple with their fraught connection with each other and the fact that they may not have truly known their children.

There is rich emotional material to be mined here but the story fails to come together in a cohesive arc that would allow for depth and clarity. Most of the play is spent elucidating what happened in the past but doesn’t give the characters any resolution in the present. The language has a poetic sensibility with lines often repeated for emotional emphasis. There are several haunting monologues but the highly stylized language seems to get in the actors’ way during the emotional confrontations. It’s unclear how much of this is down to the translation or to the original playwright’s style.

The staging is very sparse. The floor is covered with plastic paper and in the second half of the show, this is used to great effect. About midway through the play the actors return to the stage soaked to the skin and barefoot, referencing one of the biggest emotional revelations in the story. Thereafter, when one character crosses the stage to confront another (which happens frequently) they slip and slide on the wet plastic. It was a really creative way of conveying the messiness of the emotional dynamics.

There were other production choices that were odd such as the decision to have Else’s monologue about the children’s deaths sung. Heather Benton brings wonderful raw emotion to that speech but the choice to have it and nothing else in the show sung took me out of the moment. Every scene ends in a ten-second blackout which makes the pacing very choppy.

The cast is excellent, especially Chris J. Cancel-Pomales as Eddie, whose carefree and charismatic personality masks a desperate anxiety. Unfortunately, the script does not allow the actors to bring their characters’ arcs to their true potential. The fascinating premise and talent of the actors makes for several wonderful moments but without a tighter script they remain just a series of moments strung together to no resolution.

At Black Lake is the American premiere of a German play originally written by Dea Loher, presented by Necessary Digression. It runs through July 25th with performances at 3 PM on weekends and 7 PM on week days, at The Tank (312 West 36th Street).

www.thetanknyc.org

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