Concrete Temple Theatre‘s new production at HERE is the New York premiere of The Bellagio Fountain Has Been Known to Make Me Cry, a well-played Southern-gothic one-act by Renee Philippi in the vein of Tennessee Williams with a magic-realism edge.
Dixie (Melissa Hurst), a Florida grandmother whose family has mostly drifted away, dreams of a trip to Las Vegas. Her divorced daughter Maria (Lisa Kitchens), Dixie’s only companion, denies being a dreamer but imagines moving to a dream version of Venice. Meanwhile the ground under the two lonely women’s adjacent houses is slowly flooding. And the water dissolving their homes, cleverly represented by unspooling rolls of paper, may be emanating from a supernatural source. In any case, their plumber, Curtis (Heinley Gaspard), a monologuist with his own sad, watery history, can’t divine it.
Curtis’s increasing exasperation with the women’s unfathomable plumbing woes parallels their own loving but fraught relationships with each other and with their respective husbands, both of whom have absented themselves in one way or another. But it also may lead him to resolving his guilty feelings about his wife’s death. While in a literal sense his storyline and the women’s intersect only glancingly, they fit together symbolically as two parts of a whole.
This sort of story can easily descend into self-conscious artiness or maudlin melodrama. In Philippi’s deft hands it does neither. The script stays steady, with naturalistic dialogue alternating with modestly elevated monologue passages. The inundation of water grows more and more mysterious and metaphoric, but only for a moment at the very end does the dialogue veer away from believability in a way that took me out of the moment.
The cast’s solid, committed performances, guided by artful direction by Philippi and Eric Nightengale, are supported by smart scenic design that mixes minimalism with excess. Almost everything is made of paper. With paper “water” everywhere, a chair becomes a bed, Dixie’s kitchen table turns into a rooftop dormer, and a swimming pool overflows and collapses in Maria’s yard.
Even as the flood leads Curtis toward a reconciliation with his past, it drives the women onto the roof. But as they await literal rescue they know that in a broader sense they don’t need it, having taken control of their lives, as Maria declares to her imaginary gondolier: “I will be the river…You will not carry me away. I will carry you. You will ride on my power.”
All three characters come prismatically to life through well-turned performances. Hurst’s Dixie floats uneasily, slightly disconnected from reality. Gaspard’s Curtis, impassioned from the first moment, makes us feel for him and wonder how deeply he is sunk into delusion. And Kitchens’s Maria, urged on by her imaginative mother, rides an arc from restrained to explosiveness to a broadened realization of her own agency. Amid the fantastical goings on, it’s pretty much all believable, and rewarding to witness.
The Bellagio Fountain Has Been Known to Make Me Cry runs through Dec. 13 at HERE.
The Bellagio Fountain Has Been Known to Make Me Cry from Concrete Temple on Vimeo.