A swimsuit, flip-flops and a towel are not the typical theater-going attire, but last weekend, children, community members and students alike floated on brightly colored inner tubes to watch the short, comedic theater production “Out At Sea.” The glow of sunset lingered behind the arched pillars of Taylor Pool as three hungry actresses debated who would be cannibalized first.
The play, written in 1997 by Polish playwright Slawomir Mrozek and translated by Nicholas Bethell, burst open with virtually no exposition to three castaways in loose white dresses adrift on a raft — a wooden platform at the edge of the pool — despairing over their depleted food supply, while the audience gently bobbed in the waters below. The first character, played by Rachel Goodman (first year), a highborn lady, seizes the role of boss. She led each development of the story with bravado, supported by her obsequious follower played by first-year Amy Weinstein. They were joined by fellow first-year Dyoni Isom, sacrificial lamb, nervous and desperate.
Without food, the women turned to democracy to resolve the conundrum of who should be consumed first. After failed attempts at holding elections, they discussed the merits of using historical justice as the guiding principle of government. The socio-political question of whether it is society’s role to make recompense for historical misfortune and eat the princess while sparing the orphan was interspersed with discussion of the most proper table-setting for such an occasion.
The play was an exciting, if odd, production. Staging it at the gymnasium pool was a departure from traditional theater, a decision that Jamie Angell — the play’s director and associate professor of theater at Occidental — made to accentuate the delightful absurdity of the piece. Highlights included the bits where a postman and later a servant of one of the characters entered the play with a splash by swimming across the pool and up to the stage. They were then pulled out of the water and onto the raft. Adults snickered and children giggled as water sloshed off the post officer’s uniform and the servant’s tuxedo.
Both characters exited the scene by jumping off the stage and swimming out into the pool again, splashing the audience as they went. The servant of the princess cheerily agreed to drown himself after she dismissed him in an effort to hide her royal background and avoid being eaten by her shipmates. Concerned eyes followed him as he dived into the pool, watching till he resurfaced in the shallows. The postman jumped back into the water to swim home and then, in arguably the funniest moment of the play, swam back to the raft to ask one of the characters to sign for a telegram.
It is perhaps an understatement to call a play where the audience had to doggy-paddle to avoid bumping into each other unorthodox. In any case, with all its strangeness, Angell’s production offered an utterly unique theatrical experience. The whimsy of “Out At Sea’s” subject matter and setting was brought to light in the warm Southern California evening at Taylor Pool, highlighting the creativity of the theater department.