"Ice Ice Baby" on the soundtrack of "Jacuzzi" tells us we're in the early 1990s, which is to say before cellphones, which is to say before we had an instant way to summon help.
Throughout Dark & Stormy Productions' comedy/drama, we sense that help may be needed. As it opens, a couple soak in the titular pool, in a room littered with winter sports equipment. They say their names are Helene (Sara Marsh) and Derek or Erik (Darius Dotch) but they're probably pseudonyms.
The pair are given to boisterous laughter, conversations that go nowhere and intense eye contact, as if each always needs to know exactly where the other is. The absurdist "Jacuzzi," which is a bit like one of those Luis Bunuel movies where characters wait for something that may or may not ever happen, doesn't tell us much about Helene and Erik, whose forced jollity could mark them as professional cheerleaders or thrill killers.
The tension picks up when spoiled rich kid Bo arrives (Paul LaNave), followed by his clueless father (Clint Allen), who owns the place. Meanwhile, the play gives us lots to ponder: Are Helene and Erik caretakers? Squatters? The Welcome Wagon?
Director Matt Anderson skillfully guides the interactions among the four, whose pairings-off and glances reveal their power dynamic. There are class issues at play, with Helene and Erik treated like servants even though they're the smartest people in this room. (One compelling irony of "Jacuzzi" is that we instantly believe the father and son are who they say they are because they're so awful but we're unsure of Helene and Erik.)
"Jacuzzi" is scripted but has an improvised quality that occasionally feels aimless. There's a sense it could go in any of a number of directions because it's more about tantalizing us with the mysteries of human behavior than plot. Even the ending could be interpreted several ways, depending on what you've concluded about these people.
You may feel differently if you own a cabin in the Rockies, but I was most interested in Helene and Erik. Dotch is an imposing physical presence, which Anderson underscores in moments when Erik appears to be on the edge of violence, making the actor's canny calm even more eerie. Marsh couldn't take any of the other three but she conveys that Helene is always calculating, ready to flip the script if it's the only way to save herself.
If this is an us-vs.-them play, Helene and Erik are the "us," which is uncomfortable since they also seem to be grifters. The play feels tiny and specific but, especially since it's performed in the tourism-based town of Stillwater, you could think of it as being about what it takes to survive if you're not part of the wealthy "one percent."
What might you do, in other words, if you found yourself in hot water?
Who: Written by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen. Directed by Matt Anderson.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thu.-Sat., 5 p.m. Sun. Ends Dec. 18.
Where: 450 Main St. N., Stillwater.
Tickets: $39, darkstormy.org.