Karen Stahl - Contributing Critic - New York
Haunting questions about their childrens’ deaths. Nights of nostalgia melt into scalding accusations. Tension, both sexual and platonic, is rampant.
These are the circumstances for At Black Lake at The Tank – while not every question was answered, the production led the audience through an eerie and sensory experience to great success.
The show follows the stories of two couples, Else and Johnny and Cleo and Eddie, as they reminiscence on their childrens’ lives and subsequent deaths four years after an undisclosed incident. As tension builds and the couples unravel, it is revealed that their children tied their wrists together and drowned themselves after capsizing their own boat in Black Lake.
The original 2012 production, written in German by playwright Dea Loher, opened to great success. This production, translated to English by Daniel Brunet, seemed to follow suit. The story grips and drags the audience, whether they are ready to ride or not.
Filled with the same anticipatory and anxiety-inducing experience of a single flashlight on a pitch-black trail, Loher’s play is relentless in withholding information to keep you invested until the very end. Though the story itself ends in a somewhat unfinished way, it does leave a lingering unease required for an ultimately satisfying experience.
Ashley Tata’s genius direction provided a distinct journey that appealed to all the senses, but particularly sound. A sheet of foil covering the ground complemented the ultimate darkness of scene transitions by allowing the audience to experience action without any visuals.
Booming sound effects immersed and captivated, which provided a stark contrast to the bare voices of the actors immediately following transitions. Additionally, dousing the four characters in water to symbolize the weight of the conflict at hand only heightened the circumstances and allowed the audience to feel duly uncomfortable.
With performances from Heather Benton, Christopher J. Cancel-Pomales, Darrell Stokes and April Sweeney, the production proved to be in good hands. A dark and haunting tale can make it difficult to find empathy, but each performer flawlessly captured the character-driven story in a believable and heartbreaking manner.
The marriage relationships between the couples – and the subsequent sexual tension between all four – were palpable. Watching the women argue about the virtues of their dead children was heartbreaking without running into screechy territory. Emotion was real and raw and quiet, which was precisely what the piece required to propel it forward.
Overall, the pacing and tone hit the mark of this near-frightening work, which allowed the audience to sit in utter discomfort and question the fragility of life and the relationships that are affected after we leave it. There was just enough verisimilitude to make it relatable while teetering on the dangerous edge of spectacle and absurdism.
At Black Lake at The Tank is a smooth and delightful journey that challenges the senses and the mind in a refreshing, overt and conspicuous way.