BROOKE Berman’s autobiography No Place Like Home is subtitled “a memoir in 39 apartments”. That’s the number of New York residences Berman had lived in by the summer of 2010, when her book was published. Berman was barely 40. The count doesn’t even include her childhood homes in Michigan and Illinois.
Unsurprisingly, “home” is a pedal note through her plays. Other harmonic notes are family and belonging, religion and ancestry, stability and reinvention. Berman gleefully plunders stories from her hypercoloured life. This play – this production, at least (it deviates from the published script) – even quotes the memoir.
Out of the Water is a murky romance between Polly, a New Yorker in her 30s, and Graham, Polly’s older ex-stepbrother. The two encounter one another after 15 years at a funeral, ticking off yet another of Berman’s fixations: the loss of a parent.
Graham (Brett Cousins) has spent the years playing the family man and doing the right thing, as if he were investing in a moral superannuation fund. He’s married to a good, if unimaginative, Christian woman and they have three children. He nursed his father through his final illness.
By contrast, Polly’s family life is abstract. Speculative, even. Polly didn’t take time out to look after her dying parent. She lives alone – single, childless and apparently content – in lower Manhattan, where she manages a bar called Home. She has lived in Nolita, north of Little Italy, long enough to mourn its gentrification.
Polly (Kate Cole) is the one to set limits on the affair – “It’s just for now. You know that, right?” – but she is Calypso about to fall for her Odysseus. She will, eventually, try to keep him from his Penelope.
Graham’s cosseted daughter Cat (Emily Milledge), who comes looking for her father to bring him back to the fold, is the wildcard. Or, rather, the potential wildcard.
Nadia Tass is a good choice as director of the play’s premiere production. Out of the Water is as close to a screenplay as a dramatic text gets. Tass dials up the sexual heat between the pair – there’s a breathless urgency and heat in the many groping encounters – but dials down their many differences. Instead of the hip, cigar-smokin’ New Yorker Berman imagined – “some combination of Chrissie Hynde and Carrie Bradshaw” – Tass’s Polly is a stolid and vulnerable young woman.
It’s as if the director doesn’t quite know what to make of Graham and Polly. What’s left, and what’s emphasised far too much, is the soapiness of the tale. It is nevertheless a thought-provoking production.
Tickets: $ 39. Bookings: (03) 9533 8083 or online. Duration: 100 minutes, no interval. Until March 8.
Out of the Water
By Brooke Berman.
Red Stitch Actors Theatre, St Kilda, February 7.