Siobhan O’Loughlin stars in the one-woman play Broken Bone Bathtub at Submersive Productions. (Glenn Ricci)
Exactly one month ago, my best friend took a spill while we were riding our bikes. She fractured her left humerus, close to the shoulder, then spent the next eight hours in the emergency room at Sinai Hospital. As her month-long care giver, I can tell you, there is nothing humorous about breaking your humerus bone. Still, I couldn’t help but laugh when I received an invite to review the one woman-show, Broken Bone Bathtub – the latest offering by Baltimore’s Submersive Productions.
Submersive Productions was the company behind the strangely unsettling and highly entertaining “The Mesmeric Revelations! of Edgar Allan Poe,” the longest-running immersive theater experience in Baltimore history. Broken Bone Bathtub – an interactive performance piece conceived by actress Siobhan O’Loughlin – had already played successfully in New York, when O’Loughlin brought the show to town last year for a short run at the Charm City Fringe Festival. The current production builds on what was already a very successful show, by adding a new soundscape by Glenn Ricci and music inspired by a theme written by O’Loughlin’s brother. Another added feature is original artwork by Baltimore artist Amanda Burnham.
As the title suggests, Broken Bone Bathtub literally sets an injured young woman (Siobhan O’Loughlin) in a bathtub for the duration of the play. The audience enters the performance space (in this case – the cozy confines of a modestly sized bathroom in an historic Baltimore home) and spends the next hour or so interacting with the afflicted Aphrodite.
What do I mean by interacting? There is conversation, of course; the kind one might expect in a therapy circle – or better – a busy beauty salon. But there is another kind of interacting; the kind one only encounters when tending to the needs of an incapacitated friend or family member.
Those, like myself, who have cared for an injured party, know that there is more to helping an ailing friend out than dropping off a pizza and bringing in the mail. Beds must be changed, medication administered; clothing and dishes washed. And let’s not even get into trips to the doctor and cleaning out the cats’ litter pan! Most important in healthcare, however, is cleanliness, which is where the bathtub part comes in. No one wants to lay at home or walk around feeling less than fresh.
Here, O’Loughlin moves beyond the bubbly banter and asks the audience to lend a hand.
When you’re wearing a cast, which you can’t get wet, how does one scrub her back and condition her hair? Who draws the bath, and – if needed – offer support with getting in and out of the tub? There is the purely physical aspect of helping someone take a much needed bath, but what really underlies all of these questions is the importance of touch. The way we’re touched when our muscles are bruised; the way we are touched when our heart is breaking. At its essence, touch is what Broken Bone Bathtub is really all about.
It’s a short swim for O’Loughlin’s winged character to move from poking fun at the absurd nature of her circumstances, to asking her attendants to share ridiculous reminiscences of their own. Her tale about a bike accident in Brooklyn provides a perfect springboard for delving into snippets of hi-jinx and heartbreak. And each anecdote elicits an equally interesting story.
True, O’Loughlin appears to thoroughly enjoy her euphoric Calgon moments. But she adroitly facilitates a conversation which cuts to the core of our shared existence.
There are no spoilers here, because each performance surely offers something new. It’s the kind of show you’ll gladly recommend to your neighbors, then quickly ask if you can bring a hurting friend along.
Broken Bone Bathtub offers more than a metaphorical cleansing. It’s a baptism of laughter, love, healing and hope. In a word, O’Loughlin is as wonderful as is her deceivingly delicate show. Suitable for parents with well-behaved children and highly recommended.
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Broken Bone Bathtub: The Submersive Edition runs Fridays through Sundays, August 19th-September 11th. Running time is about one hour with no intermission. Tickets and other information may be found online at https://www.artful.ly/store/events/9294
In early 2017, Submersive Productions will present an experimental storytelling lab entitled Plunge. Plunge will pair five performance artists with five visual artists to create a set of experiences designed for one audience member at a time. Through a series of workshops this fall, the team will be exploring the art of one-to-one environmental performance. In the first workshop, the performers will meet with Siobhan O’Loughlin for a session focusing on close, intimate performance and audience interaction. These workshops will culminate in a public performance in which audience members will have the opportunity to experience a set of intimate and (likely) thought-provoking scenes focused completely on them.
For more details, visit http://submersiveproductions.com.