H2O by Gremlin Theatre, performing at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage

Ashley Montondo, Peter Christian Hansen in H2O

Ashley Montondo, Peter Christian Hansen in H2O.

Plan on going out for drinks following Gremlin Theater’s regional premier of Jane Martin’s new play H2O, because you will need them. Not only is the show a provocative conversation starter diving headlong into weighty topics of meaning and purpose, but it is a high-intensity ride from start to finish. Drinks with friends to take the edge off and catch your breath are prescribed.

H2O follows a devout young Christian, Deborah (Ashley Rose Montondo), who believes she is called by God to an acting career, but has toiled in obscurity in New York for years. When she auditions for the part of Ophelia in a limited run of Hamlet on Broadway, Deborah finds her life turned upside down by the show’s star Jake (Peter Christian Hansen), an aimless and angry movie star who rocketed to fame after being plucked from small town America to play a superhero in three major Hollywood hits.

Jake becomes infatuated with the idea of working with Deborah and their lives quickly become intertwined. Jake is magnetically handsome, insanely rich, and utterly chaotic. Deborah dresses plainly, struggles to pay her bills, and has a principled approach to life. The thrust of the story explores how these two contrasting figures’ struggles with loneliness and disappointment operate as a catalyst to draw them together and push them apart.

The play is a mixture of comedy, romance, tragedy, and character study that is a truly original work, exploring modern themes of disconnect as well as commenting on the value of art and performance. In other words, there is a lot going on in this two-person, intermission-less play – good thing that some of the best talent in the Twin Cities is on display bringing the characters to life. Ashley Rose Montondo plays Deborah with earnest determination as she concurrently clings to her dreams and her faith. Her staid demeanor is juxtaposed beautifully and comically with Peter Christian Hansen’s physically bombastic and irreverent performance. The two have great chemistry, and it’s a joy to watch them feed off each other.

These performances benefit from the strong vision of director Ellen Fenster. She utilizes every inch of the intimate space at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage with a minimalist set design and creative lighting. These elements are both impressively executed by designer Carl Schoenborn to isolate and highlight character interactions for maximal impact. The show rarely feels like it wastes its energy, as each moment is pointed and assured despite their wide-ranging moods.

The complexity of H20 does present some issues. First, the content is so chock full of thematic material that its breakneck speed occasionally fails to give its audience time to process. There are a few comic breaks, especially early on, but even these are characterized by high energy and intensity. Additionally, the show consists wholly of a rapid string of short vignettes, which presents significant technical challenges. Extensive scene change choreography opens the door to a number of gaffes, and the performance we saw had a few, but this is bound to become less of a problem as the show eases into its run.

The play’s major strength is its honesty, which neither satirizes Christianity nor sensationalizes fame. The Gremlin’s production frequently rings true and doesn’t simplify its characters’ complex emotional journeys. While the show may dip its toes a little too far into shock tactics at times, it nevertheless resonates. It is far more concerned with its characters than its themes, and this serves to ultimately underline its multifaceted subject matter and leave a lasting impact.

David and Chelsea Berglund review films at their site Movie Matrimony.

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