Cal Rep plays with reality, surrealism

“The Pool of Bethesda,” written by Allan Cubitt and directed for California Repertory Company’s current production by Joanne Gordon, is an intermingling of art and science; love and loss; and pain and laughter. The script, and certainly Gordon’s artistic vision of the play, asks the question not only of who has access healthcare, but also who has access to art.

Danny (John Prosky), a London surgeon, finds himself caught up in what he calls a dream, becoming immersed in William Hogarth’s painting of the same title by posing as Christ for the artist.

The supporting characters of Danny’s hallucinations just happen to be the most important people in his life, though they don’t have that knowledge themselves. This is similar to “The Wizard of Oz,” in which characters from Dorothy’s real life also pop up as different characters in Oz. However, in this case, audiences are faced with fantastical illusions with heavier topics, such as fidelity and living in truth rather than fantasy.

The first act places viewers mainly in Danny’s hallucinations, which can leave the audience a bit detached from making any emotional connections to the characters or their relationships with each other. It can be hard to understand the annoyance and conviction Danny feels about his experiences within his visions.

The second act brings viewers into the immediate “real world” story of Danny’s life and why he has the visions. It also begins to solidify the connections he has with his wife, sister, colleague and newfound friend.

Prosky’s portrayal of Danny is skillful, especially in the second act, and in his interactions with his sister Ruth (Sarah Underwood) and the wonderfully interchangeable Josh Nathan. Prosky and Nathan have some of the most touching moments in the play, which helps build up the inner turmoil Danny tries to live with once their friendships begin to blossom in the face of deterioration.

Some of the accents are unfortunate at times, along with the melodramatic stances, movements and speech patterns that are unfitting within certain scenes. Danny’s wife (Anna Steers) has a face similar to Anna Paquin’s, but her melodramatic performance does not always work. However, her characterizations are superb and fitting at other times. Ruth and Danny’s coworker Kate (Cecily Overman) connect to him with a more natural tone, even within such a twisting story.

There is a difficulty in balancing the surreal with more realistic moments in “The Pool of Bethesda.” However, when the cast dives into that pool of realism, they really shine and throw audiences into the emotion of these characters’ lives.

“The Pool of Bethesda” runs through May 14 at the Royal Theatre aboard the Queen Mary. Tickets are $15 for students and $20 for general admission. The Queen Mary is located at 1126 Queens Highway. 

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