Off-Broadway Theater Review: JACUZZI (Ars Nova)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on October 14, 2014

in Theater-New York


The lights come up on a couple, Helene (Hannah Bos) and Derek (Paul Thureen), reading in a Jacuzzi, inside a cozy Colorado skiing cabin one cold winter evening sometimes in the 1980s. They’ve made themselves at home, yet a certain unmoored quality about them suggests that they don’t quite belong. Suddenly a young man in a colorful expensive ski suit comes in from the cold, and apologizes as he shivers for intruding on the couple. He is Bo (the excellent Chris Lowell), the son of the owner. He was supposed to arrive the following day for a father-son ski race but came early, thinking the cabin empty; he hadn’t realized it was still being used by the renters. He offers to leave but they invite him to stay, and before long he is drunk with them in the hot tub, confessing to something bad he did to either a woman or a child in Romania during his travels (precisely what he says was not clear to me or my neighbor in the audience, and I suspect the ambiguity is intentional). The next day, when Bo’s father Robert (Peter Friedman) arrives and assumes the couple to be the maintenance crew, that is the role Helen and Derek take on, managing to remain day after day as little things here and there still need fixing…things which they themselves surreptitiously break.


On Laura Jellinek’s inspired set that is so intricately detailed and inviting it makes one want to live in it, the helpful but devious couple create a backdrop of menacing uncertainty as we learn about the relationship between Robert and Bo: they are estranged, Robert had to bribe his son to come up for the race, and he and Bo’s mother just went through a contentious divorce. We learn that when Bo was a child, his parents, both of whom are psychologists, used him as a guinea pig in their experiments concerning child development, then utilized their findings as a basis for a successful series of books on child rearing they co-authored, in which they revealed embarrassing details about their young son; Helen and Derek are reading copies of one such book when Bo first comes in.

The setup is rich with possibilities—anything could happen. Yet almost nothing does; the most dramatic events mentioned in the play occur outside its parameters. It seems Jacuzzi was more developed than written by Ms. Bos, Mr. Thureen, and director Oliver Butler of The Debate Society, the Ars Nova resident company. While expert performers are a pleasure to watch as they realize their characters’ moment-to-moment realities in all their fine detail, what the play wants for is a strong writer’s hand. There is value in the Society’s understated approach to be sure. The show achieves an existential creepiness and its unreal quality has poignancy. But ultimately I think more dramatic and intellectual mileage could have been gained with direct action; too much understatement can feel like a cheat.

The Debate Society
Ars Nova, 511 West 54th Street
Mon – Wed at 7:00; Thu – Sat at 8:00
Sat at 2:00 on Oct 18, Oct 25, and Nov 1
scheduled to end on November 1, 2014
EXTENDED to November 15, 2014
for tickets, call 212-352-3101 or visit

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