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July 5, 2012

Ritual, nudity and a lot of splashing in Single Carrot Theatre's 'Foot of Water'

It's possible, as you know, to drown in an inch of water.

So Single Carrot Theatre was taking a certain risk plunging into a "Foot of Water" -- an original work created by company members over the course of the past 10 months.

The result is pretty soggy.

There's potential in this look at sex through myth and ritual, but the almost acrobatically choreographed play doesn't quite add up to a cohesive, let alone freshly insightful, statement.

It's sort of a variation on "Spring Awakening," only without rock songs, spicy dialogue, a plot, humor, or the gays.

The Carrots got a lot of their inspiration from a workshop they attended on the methods of Jerzy Grotowski, which led them away from a "verbal, idea-based" approach and toward a style that is highly physical, symbolic and improvisatory.

Nothing wrong with departing from structure and convention, of course. The danger when going in this direction is that, ...

instead of something theatrically meaty, the product can start to look precious or pretentious, or both. That danger is not entire eluded here.

"Foot of Water," which closes this weekend, certainly has its rewards. Brevity, for one, coming in under an hour. This ensures a continual momentum as the action unfolds in, on and around the central prop -- a combo fountain/shower designed by Ryan Dunne and Cat Yard.

As for that action, it is largely focused on the arousing of sexual desire and its consequences, played out against the mythic power of the sea. Here, even the act of scaling a fish takes on erotic overtones.

Of love or even tenderness there is little. Most of the moves made by the four men in the play, each with close-cropped hair, have an aggressive edge.

You know right from that start that the men will start beating on things before long, not to mention chanting in some fashion. You know, too, that a fight is inevitable.

The cause of friction is a desire for Hylas (Alix Fenhagen), the central female figure, whose fixation on water and its comforting power is a leitmotif in the play.

(Intriguing that the woman should be called Hylas, since, in mythology, he was a male youth who was Hercules' constant companion until being pulled to his death by a water nymph. I didn't get the impression that any of this was being even subtly referenced here.)

The fight scenes bring the play closest to modern dance; there is something dance-like, too, about some of the activity in the shower and, especially, the pool of water used in the performance.

It may have been more effective to keep the entire show balletic, without any words spoken at all. Instead, a narrator figure (Jessica Garrett) periodically offers bits of information, vaguely poetic in character, and a few of the others utter lines along the way (Hylas: "It's not the journey I fear, but the destination").

The climactic point, so to speak, involves nudity, death and more ritual. There's an impressive solemnity to it all, but diffuseness as well. There's no sense of arrival at a destination, only a sense that the performance is over.

As usual, the Carrotts jump wholeheartedly into the work. Directed by Ben Hoover, the cast is remarkably cohesive, focused and uninhibited. Costumes (Heather C. Jackson), sound (Steven Krigel) and lighting (Riki Kim) are all deftly done.

In the end, though, "Foot of Water" isn't quite deep enough to whet the senses.

Performances continue through July 8.


Posted by Tim Smith at 1:05 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drama Queens, Single Carrot Theatre

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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