In Lee Blessing's "A Body of Water," a couple awaken in a house with no memory of who they are or how they got there, and their effort to construct a reality for themselves is filled with danger and discovery. Now receiving a competent staging by Molasses Tank Productions at the Charlestown Working Theater, the play explores the choices people make when they are left to create their identities from scratch.
Blessing has exhibited his easy understanding of back-and-forth conversational banter in such plays as "A Walk in the Woods" and "Eleemosynary." "A Body of Water," tinged with the absurdity of Samuel Beckett and spiced with wry humor, follows Moss (Anthony Dangerfield) and Avis (Elizabeth Brunette) as they try to figure out who they are and who they might have been.
The journey begins with an evaluation of their surroundings: a beautiful home or prison, set high on a hill above a body of water that seems to encircle them. Sitting in the living room in matching bathrobes, they struggle to orient themselves first to the place and then to each other. The memories they do have seem random and unhelpful - "My mother hated hard-boiled eggs," says Moss - but they question the accuracy of memories anyway. Avis suggests that even when two people experience the same event, they remember it differently. "Each of those moments happen only for us," she says. "It's as if we were living two entirely separate lives."
Their efforts are complicated by the arrival of Wren (Judith Kalaora), a woman who may be their aide, their lawyer, or their daughter. When Wren accuses Avis and Moss of a horrible crime, Moss protests, saying he may not know who he is, but he knows he and Avis are not capable of murder.
"Why are you tormenting us?" he asks, only to have Wren say, "No one could take care of you as long as I have and not torment you a little." But her efforts to jog their memories are sadistic and manipulative and make Avis and Moss more reliant on each other, as they try to evaluate the conflicting information Wren provides.
Crafting characters when there's little or nothing to go on can be a challenge for actors, and Dangerfield and Brunette struggle to find their footing in the roles. Both start out stiffly, but relax as the play unfolds. Dangerfield's boyish reactions give Moss a certain charm, and Brunette's efficient, controlling approach to Avis is effective as she attempts to cling to any reasonable possibility even as it slips from her grasp. Kalaora has the most difficult role, as the mysterious Wren is as much a plot device as a person, but Kalaora drifts too quickly into overly emotional reactions.
Molasses Tank has once again invited a visual artist to contribute to the staging, but the incorporation of Sally Moore's "Memory" feels obscure and abstract rather than evocative or illuminating.
"A Body of Water" ends inconclusively, leaving audiences feeling there was a missed opportunity. Molasses Tank Productions may not be able to solve the play's problems, but this small company deserves credit for taking on the challenge.