Washing With Sam: Bathing Beauty in The Late Henry Moss
South Pacific calls for a navy nurse to wash her hair onstage while singing a song, and in The Big Funk, a captive woman is given a shampoo and shower by a bevy of servants in full view of the audience, but for The Late Henry Moss, Yadira Correa's duties for the role of the mysterious Conchalla require her to first draw a bath in a big old-fashioned cast-iron tub, then take off her clothes and frolic in its splashy depths. On a conventional proscenium stage, this activity could be executed upstage in a shadowy corner, but in the Artistic Home's cozy storefront, a few playgoers will find the antique fixture located, literally, at their elbows.
In a real-life shack like the one that scenic designer Jake Bray replicates for this Sam Shepard play, the plumbing would be clustered together (with perhaps a wall separating kitchen and bathroom equipment), but playgoers savvy in the construction of fully-functional cooking and washing appliances for theatrical purposes have come to expect these furnishings to be located close to the theater's actual restrooms. A cursory look at the Artistic Home's facilities, however, reveals no connecting hoses or special accouterments offering clues to the source of the water.
"The restroom has a removable plexiglass panel near the ceiling," scenic designer Jake Bray explains, "We passed a pipe through the opening to hook the tub's faucet to the sink's. The tub itself is borrowed from Steppenwolf—we plugged the drain to make it capable of holding actual water."
"We fill it a little before the show," elaborates director Kaiser Ahmed, "then when Yadira does the scene, she turns on the tap to add hot water until the temperature is comfortable, then shuts it off. By the end of the show, the tub is about half-full."
Real water also means that Correa must emerge dripping from her skinny-dip into a chilly air-conditioned room to parade with sassy insouciance for several more minutes—a regimen that could reduce even the most hardy actress to chills and sniffles when executed four times a week for a nearly two-month run. Fortunately, a cornerstone of the Artistic Home approach is the importance of health and safety in maintaining performance quality.
In order to ensure both, Correa makes her entrance wearing an elastic-waisted skirt and a frilly teddy—outer garb that she discards before her underwater immersion to leave herself clad in two layers of thong undies, one of which she peels away to fling playfully at her aged paramour. Upon completion of her ablutions, she wraps herself in a serape-style blanket hanging on the nearby wall. This serves to blot up the spillage until she can exit backstage to towel off properly.
"Kaiser and I discussed the whole concept of the bathtub for a long time," confesses Bray, "It's a symbol of magical power, so we wanted to position it in a place of prominence. Besides, the Artistic Home has such an intimate space that I wanted to take advantage of that proximity to put the tub almost right in the audience's laps."
The Late Henry Moss runs at the Artistic Home through August 3.
Mary Shen Barnidge
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