‘Water’s Edge’ pushes point of plausibility

By Scott Harrah


Written by Theresa Rebeck

Directed by Will Frears

Through July 9

Second Stage Theatre

307 W. 43rd Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues

212-246-4422 www.secondstagetheatre.com

Joan Marcus

Despite narrative missteps, “Water’s Edge” is filled with outstanding actors, like Tony Goldwyn and Kate Burton, above.

There are many likable aspects of this New England family drama, most notably the first-rate cast. Alexander Dodge’s set, featuring a disheveled lakeside mansion with Greek columns, is elaborate indeed. However, from the very first scene, the plot — which focuses on wealthy, middle-aged businessman Richard (Tony Goldwyn) — is questionably plausible. Richard returns to the home of his estranged wife Helen (Kate Burton) and their two children Erica (Mamie Gummer) and Nate (Austin Lysy) after 17 years. He has been sending checks to support the family all this time, but has been completely absent from their lives until now.

Richard and Helen had a third child that drowned in the lake in a tragic accident nearly two decades earlier, splitting the family apart, but Richard is adamant about reconciling with his children and also taking possession of the house. For some reason, he has brought along his much younger girlfriend Lucy (Katharine Powell). The children, now in their twenties, quickly let their father know that his presence isn’t welcome. Mamie Gummer gets many laughs from the audience when she spews a barrage of nonstop obscenities at her long-lost dad, but her mother remains cool and pleasant to both Richard and his girlfriend.

As the first act closes, “The Water’s Edge” appears to be nothing more than a quirky, dysfunctional family reunion story, with the uneasy, forlorn subtext found in so many O’Neill and Williams dramas. However, things take a grisly, absurd turn for the worse in act two. What unfolds is a confusing attempt at using the premises of such Greek tragedies as “Oedipus,” “Medea” and “The Orestia” and fusing them into a melodramatic thriller. What started out in act one as a serious drama soon turns into a silly, contrived showcase for sensationalism. There’s a gratuitous nude scene featuring Tony Goldwyn, and too many plot flaws to mention. Playwright Theresa Rebeck’s uneven narrative and inane twists make it difficult for audiences to figure out just what she’s trying to say in this story. Is it a modern-day Greek tragedy with a feminist twist? By the time we reach the strained, pointless ending, one is so bored and perplexed that it doesn’t really matter what the author’s intentions might have been. She definitely has a talent for writing punchy dialogue and witty one-liners, but here she needed to spend more time fine-tuning the storyline. Will Frears’s direction is serviceable, but it’s hard to imagine how anyone could approach such weak and underdeveloped material and try to make it work.

Regardless, “The Water’s Edge” has a splendid cast. Kate Burton gives a richly textured performance as always, and Austin Lysy and Mamie Gummer are outstanding as the two adult children, adding just the right amount of angst to their roles. Katharine Powell is also quite effective as the distraught girlfriend who finds out that her main squeeze is a total loser, and the charismatic Tony Goldwyn does his best to make his character believable. It’s a shame that such gifted actors must waste their talent on a half-baked drama like this.

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