Playing with water

Playing with water
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

In Brooklyn, an empty pool can be a music venue, a seemingly meaty pulled-pork sandwich can be vegan — and apparently a barge can be a theater.

Theater troupe founder Laura Tesman was looking for a Brooklyn venue where she could stage Eugene O’Neill’s “Anna Christie,” but it wasn’t until she went grocery shopping that she found the perfect place for the tense family drama about working class New York.

“We really wanted to do the play, and originally we figured we’d do it along the water somewhere, but then I remembered being at Fairway and seeing a barge out the window and knew right away that that would be the perfect location,” said director Laura Tesman, a Colorado-transplant who started Spleen Theater a year ago with collaborator Gene Gillette.

The four-act drama about three lost souls adrift on a coal barge evokes the cutthroat world of New York’s male-dominated working class in the early twentieth century by shining a light on the strength that women, such as the protagonist Anna Christie, had to possess in order to survive.

“The female character in this play is so forthright. She stands up for herself and knows what she wants,” she said.

The play will take place in the interior of the barge in a central, living room space that can hold an audience of about 100 people.

“There are four eight-foot doors that slide open,” said Tesman. “So, although you’re inside of the barge, you feel like you’re outside as well.”

A century ago, the boat-turned stage hauled coffee beans and dates into the New York Harbor before being abandoned in 1960. In 1985, the historic, wooden vessel became the Waterfront Museum, where impressionable youngsters have learned about the Big Apple of yesteryear.

The budding company hopes to produce one new play every year and as for future site-specific theatrics, Tesman has a few ideas she’d like to set sail, like the “Mask of the Black Death,” by Edgar Allen Poe at the Irondale Center, Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra,” in the Concert Grove at Prospect Park, and Caridad Svich’s “Luna Park,” under the Ferris wheel in Coney Island.

But her loftiest goal is to put on “Hamlet,” inside the Williamsburgh Savings Bank tower.

“I’m not sure if that’s possible, but it would be really cool to see the whole city vista from the tower’s windows as we performed,” she said.

“Anna Christie” at the Waterfront Museum [290 Conover St. at Reed Street, (718) 624–4719, waterfrontmuseum.org/events/performances/spleen-theatre]. Sept. 8, 9, 15, 16, 21 and 23 at 7:30 pm, $18.

Barging in: Director Laura Tesman is staging Eugene O’Neill’s “Anna Christie” on a barg in Red Hook.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini