Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Falls Church High School The Water Engine

By • Feb 8th, 2009 • Category: Cappies

Inventor Charles Lang has created something so incredible that he is on the very verge of inheriting unthinkable fame and fortune. But all those dreams dissolve into dust when he becomes ensnared in the web of deceit and intimidation that comprises David Mamet’s dark noir thriller The Water Engine, performed recently by Falls Church High School.

Written in 1976 in the style of radio shows of the 1930’s and ’40’s, “The Water Engine” begins with Charles (Eric Holl), an optimistic young inventor of an engine that runs entirely on distilled water, seeking a patent for his design during the 1934 Chicago World Fair. His groundbreaking machine threatens to revolutionize industry, and Charles soon finds himself at the mercy of two thuggish attorneys with sinister intentions. With idealistic enterprise pitted against the menacing power of big business, Charles and his life’s work are swept into mortal danger.

Unconventional staging allowed the cast to transfer the story to the stage while retaining Mamet’s original vision of The Water Engine as a strictly auditory experience. Paul Moore‘s set consisted of a recording room in a radio broadcast station, with chairs in which actors sat when not speaking their lines into microphones. Many sound effects were provided by onstage Foley artists (Alex Doak and Bill Miller).

With no stage directions, scenery, or props, the talented ensemble had to rely solely on their voices to convey the complex story. Intense deliveries and strong characterizations carried the production through its dramatic closing.

As the hapless inventor, Holl maintained consistently high energy and an endearing earnestness in the fast-paced, dialogue-driven story. As Morton Gross, one of the subtly malicious attorneys who blackmails Charles, Ian Mills was perfectly disquieting and understated. Alex Rock was equally imposing as lawyer Lawrence Obermann. The delicate dynamic between Holl, Mills, and Rock culminated in one particularly tense, chilling scene in which the lawyers calmly tried to persuade Charles to trust them with his blueprints.

Comic relief was provided by Sam Johnson as the perpetually perturbed store owner Mr. Wallace, and Erica Taylor, as his enthusiastic daughter Bernice. The pair bantered cheerfully with believable chemistry. Enjoyable cameos were given by Valerie Thibeault as Gross’ bored secretary and Betsy Ryan as a rebellious soapbox speaker.

In keeping with the show’s auditory focus, Patrick Entsminger‘s sound design was superb, with cues executed effectively. The live sound effects provided by Doak and Miller were equally prompt, creative, and appropriate. Original music, written and performed by Mollie Dreisbach and David Vo, added to the 1930’s ambience.

Despite suggesting confidence in the saving possibilities of science, The Water Engine warns against blind belief in the American dream. The students at Falls Church High School portrayed this mature theme with poise, maintaining the message’s relevance for another generation.

by Emily O’Connell of Bishop Ireton High School

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