The day I went to the Signature Theater it was so hellishly hot out that it felt as if the air was clinging to my skin. So I stepped into the air-conditioned coolness of the Pershing Square Signature Center for “The Watering Hole,” a theatrical installation conceived and curated by the Pulitzer Prize-winner Lynn Nottage. What I’d hoped for was refreshment. What I left with was a thirst for a more memorable and neatly composed offering.
“The Watering Hole,” directed by Miranda Haymon, is a collaborative project featuring work by Haymon and Nottage along with Christina Anderson, Matt Barbot, Montana Levi Blanco, Stefania Bulbarella, Amith Chandrashaker, nicHi douglas, Iyvon E., Justin Ellington, Emmie Finckel, Vanessa German, Ryan J. Haddad, Phillip Howze, Haruna Lee, Campbell Silverstein, Charly Evon Simpson and Rhiana Yazzie. For each 80-minute show, a small audience is split into two groups and led through the lobby, dressing rooms, theaters and backstage areas, where they encounter sculptures, audiovisual installations and interactive activities.
Part of the conceit, after all, is locating the theater as a gathering space — a place for collaboration. At least I think it is. The production is too heterogeneous and muddled to rally around one clear theme or concept.
The grand staircase of the Signature Center is the first stop. The whole space is outlined with sea-blue walking paths and water drop stickers marking where to stand at a safe social distance. Audio interviews from the artists, in which most of them talk about ancestry, play through speakers. So this show is about heritage and ancestry? Well, no. Because there’s all of the water, like a video of Haddad in which he talks about how he, as a disabled man, learned how to swim. So perhaps it’s about independence and resiliency? Then what about German and Lee’s original song, “This Room Is a Broken Heart,” which plays on a mind-numbing loop in the lobby and talks about water as a symbol of grief? And Anderson and Harmon’s karaoke-inspired piece in a dressing room, where there’s a “Big”-style floor piano that you’re invited to use to accompany a song playing on the TV?