Christopher Kyle's Plunge was first produced in the late '90s, not so long ago, but there's a dated quality to it that extends further than the fact that none of these late-20-something characters seem to have a cell phone. What's dated is that none of them seem to have an inner life either, in spite of their bellyaching, the occasional secret that gets revealed, or their high level of frustration. Perhaps Kyle means to reveal the artificiality of surfaces, and to equate a dive into the swimming pool with a plunge into deeper issues, but the most revealing that gets done is when Clare (Jennifer Laine Williams) climbs out of the pool after a skinny dip.
The plot of Plunge shifts back and forth from a country weekend at the house of Clare's father and stepmother (they're off somewhere) and the Paramount Hotel in the city, where an unplanned sexual encounter is begun but not completed. Since the parties were Clare and Harris (Devin Scott), a co-worker and the husband of her old school pal Val (Ellen Dolan), dramatic possibilities abound since they are Clare's weekend guests, along with old school pal Matty (Scott Sheldon) -- who half-jokingly refers to himself as the weekend's co-host, and Jim (Amos Crawley), a temp at the office whom Clare is sleeping with, even if she doesn't quite remember inviting him.
Did anyone (even in 1997) seriously consider temping as a career the way Jim does? Even the others don't believe him, but there's no indication in the writing or acting that there's anything beneath. The heart-shaped bathtubs in the Poconos have been something of a joke to everyone since the '70s, but Jim seems to mean it seriously when he presents Clare with bus tickets for a weekend there. Even in a pre-digital camera age, would dividing up photographs be taken as a sign of the dissolution of a marriage? (If anger is the issue, why doesn't Val just promise to make copies and then not do it?) These kinds of things sound clever on paper, but they didn't play very well.
The cast struggled mightily, showing emotion where they could, but depth was elusive. Items of interest poked their heads out but weren't developed. The most meaningful connection grew between Harris and Matty, not sexual in nature, but born of soldiering on in the face of rejection. Yet even then, their breakthrough happened off stage, with the audience only able to guess at what kind of character-revealing embarrassment, exposing/concealing, advance/retreats took place. Or Clare, disdainful about her stepmother, specifically refers to her and her father as her parents, and is concerned about moving furniture back where it originally was. Surely there's something else there? Or when Val, who has divulged (out of nowhere) that she is sleeping with a woman and is moving in with her, blurts out "I don't love anyone!" it is almost immediately dropped. That the other characters don't know what to say is one thing, but for the playwright (and director Robin A. Paterson) another opportunity for character development is missed. Matty's referring to Clare as "Malibu Barbie on the Island of Lost Toys" is provocative, but even Clare's breaking down at the end offers little to anchor it. Where does self-interest morph into self-destruction or denial? Usually, the large consumption of alcohol (like here) is a character lubricant, not a constraint.
The set (production designed by Paterson) managed to combine the inside and the outside of the country house, with the house's wall glass and screened. The screens could be difficult to see through, in spite of effective lighting, and the edging of the panels was thick enough to require looking around when action happened outside. The suggestion of a pool was tremendously enhanced by the sound effects, and the original music set a mood without being obtrusive -- a mood that the play's skittering around wasn't able to match. It's almost more meaningful that the Paramount Hotel, still on West 46th St., is no longer the trendy meeting place it once was.
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Copyright 2005 David Mackler