ABOVE ALL ELSE, Book-It Repertory Theater has impeccable taste. Its latest production, Silver Water, adapted from Amy Bloom's acclaimed story collection Come to Me, couldn't have showcased a better author; Bloom's forte is describing the frightened love that hides behind most of the things that go terribly wrong between people. "I wanted that ease to transform me," a married Galen (Jane Jones) says of her secret lover's uncomplicated appeal, "so that I would never again find myself in the middle of traffic, paralyzed by the risk and complexity of the next step." Bloom has a luminously heartbreaking understanding of human fallibility (she is, not coincidentally, a psychotherapist), and I commend this fine company for bringing a larger audience to her prose, even if the result remains simply a noble attempt.
Book-It Repertory Theater A Contemporary Theater ends February 25
Silver Water consists of three pieces, and together they comprise the suffering psyches of one family. In "Hyacinths," David Silverstein (Peter Crook) recounts the childhood accident that haunts every joy in his adult life, while his chilly wife Galen describes her aforementioned fleeting affair (with a muscled David Quicksall) in "The Sight of You." Daughter Violet (Heather Guiles), in the title and concluding story, details the downfall of her sister Rose (Sheila Daniels).
Director Mary Machala has lent all this an admirable staging, with fine detail in the blocking and evocative lighting from Roberta Russell. The problem, unfortunately, is Book-It's strict adherence to text, a practice that has made its reputation in other productions but here is at odds with Bloom's stories, which are composed almost exclusively of insular narratives. In adapting them, Machala and actor Jones have done the group's usual sterling job of stretching phrases from the page. And Book-It's custom of having more than one actor speak the same line still adds vivid theatrical layers—both Crook, in the present, and his past younger self (Douglas Hamilton) fearfully admonish a foolhardy cousin (Harry Jamieson) before tragedy strikes—but it's not quite enough. The lack of much actual dialogue doesn't allow the actors to connect fully with one another, and it puts us a step or two away from complete emotional engagement. It's respectable yet austere. It's a lot, as well, to ask of the young actors to express themselves believably within the conceit (Kate Lund and Maya Sugarman, as Young Rose and Violet, respectively, do nicely; Jamieson and Hamilton somewhat less so).
CROOK'S LAUDABLY well-observed turn, however, anchors his story, and his mild-mannered torment resonates with his presence in the other two pieces, beautifully rendering him "a small animal at the hands of a violent but distractible boy." Jones, on the other hand, as his wife, while a capable actor, gives the wrong performance for this role. Her brittle feistiness here is more akin to a vexing, ornery heroine from, say, a Larry McMurtry novel than the cool, aloof "ethereal beauty" Bloom describes.
This is partly Machala's misstep. Whenever the writing approaches the ornate, Machala loses control. Almost every cast member approaches Bloom's ardor, those moments when her characters soar into passionate release, with sincere but unchecked effusiveness, as if they're dazed at the beauty of their own words. When Galen describes her affair as "that river of love that I could dip into and leave and return to once more and find it still flowing," Jones' gushing makes it sound florid, overdone, rather than conveying the uncommon rapture of an otherwise chilled soul.
The production's devotion to its characters is the most affecting thing about Silver Water. Machala and her cast, as per Book-It's mission, certainly make you want to read about these people; it is only in Bloom's pages, however, that they remain completely realized.