Shotgun Players’ new production, “The Water Principle,” takes place at the end of the road at the end of the world. Addie lives alone in a broken-down shack. Water, for drinking or even bathing, has become scarce. Weed, who covets Addie’s land, talks about man as a hunter and farmer, but there’s little left to hunt or to farm. Weed has a stash of canned beans. Addie survives on worms and an occasional crow.
Eliza Anderson’s grim no-man’s land has its origins in Beckett, and her dialogue, filled with vague menace and unexpected comedy, owes a good deal to Pinter.
Still, “The Water Principle” feels original and compelling. The short scenes, often connected by sound effects, complement the staccato dialogue. The language sometimes strains for effect, as in Addie’s opening monologue, but is more often sinewy and pungent.
The production is blessed by three subtle, fully imagined performances. Kate Sheehan is a superb Addie, alternately fierce and resigned but with hints of an almost-forgotten capacity for tenderness. John Thomas is more than a match for her as Weed, whose crazy schemes for an amusement park on her land drive the plot. “Weed’s Wonderland,” he calls it: a false Eden to replace what he and his kind have destroyed.
The opening series of scenes between the two of them, in which Weed tries to buy, trick, or threaten Addie out of her land, are an absorbing duel between his demented greed and her nearly hopeless but stubborn idealism. To Weed’s bluster about supply and demand and “subsidiary ventures,” Addie has a simple answer. “I’m responsible,” she says.
Their standoff acquires a new focus with the appearance of Skinner, as accommodating as Addie and Weed are ferocious. Will Weed seduce Skinner with his cans of beans and promises of partnership? Will Addie win out instead with her offer to “put her legs up in the air?” Skinner needs both food and love, and for a while he finds a way to both. Ian Petroni could hardly be better in the part. He makes Skinner’s passivity and detachment seem like a kind of sanity.
The splendid timing of all three actors and John Warren’s excellent direction keeps the production intense and taut.
This is theater without frills, performed in a warehouse with less than comfortable seats, but it’s real theater, humming with energy and life.
The Water Principle runs through Oct. 19 at the Eighth Street Studio, 2525 Eighth St., Berkeley, with Friday and Saturday performances at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. Tickets are $18 adults, $12 for students, seniors and Theatre Bay Area members. 704-8210 or www.shotgunplayers.org.