Created and Performed by Siobhan O'Loughlin
Presented by Broken Bone Bathtub
Off Off Broadway, Solo Show
Runs Through 2.26.17
Various Locations (provided upon ticket purchase)
by Emily Cordes on 1.16.17
Siobhan O'Loughlin in Broken Bone Bathtub. Photo by Zack DeZon.
BOTTOM LINE: Intimate in every sense, Broken Bone Bathtub is a unique exploration of human strength, vulnerability, and interdependence.
Let’s get one thing straight: this is not traditional theatre, nor does it aim to be. A one-woman show about physical injury, set in rotating strangers’ bathrooms, in which audience members are literally asked to bathe its performer, Broken Bone Bathtub will challenge multiple expectations and comfort zones. Yet it is precisely this anti-theatricality that gives the show its power, as creator-performer Siobhan O’Loughlin’s un-self-conscious sharing of her body and story brings us face-to-face with our own humanity.
Despite (or perhaps because of) its unconventionality, Broken Bone Bathtub quickly sets a casual, nonthreatening tone: as four to eight audience members chat over snacks and drinks in the host’s apartment, the experience feels more like a gathering of friends than a staged play. Before guiding us into the bathroom, a volunteer describes the show as “semi-participatory": viewers opting to avoid physical touch may sit by the door, while those seeking direct contact with O’Loughlin are placed closer to the action. Entering the space, we gather on the floor, toilet, and tiny step-stools, as O’Loughlin, clad only in mounds of bubbles and a colorful hand cast, cheerfully greets us and launches into her true account.
One rainy night in October 2012, while biking to an activist meeting in Brooklyn, O’Loughlin broke her hand in a head-on collision with another cyclist. Living alone and unable to shower with her cast, she began bathing at friends’ apartments, the act of which helped soothe the loneliness and insecurity of her recovery. Appropriately, the show’s setup mimics this original “bathtub tour,” each performance occurring at a different volunteer’s apartment in Manhattan, Brooklyn, or Queens. O’Loughlin is a gifted raconteur, her warm, conversational banter as disarming as it is engaging. Profoundly honest but never self-indulgent, she hits every emotional facet of the healing process: shame over her role in the accident, jealousy of the other cyclist’s supportive boyfriend, the humility of acknowledging her limits and seeking help, and gratitude for the friends, acquaintances, and strangers who provided it.
As her tale progresses, O’Loughlin further incorporates her audience through several gentle prompts. Casually, almost as an aside, she pauses and asks participants to scrub her back, wash her hair, or massage her non-injured hand. Having volunteered for full immersion, I found myself bathing and shampooing O’Loughlin; perhaps due to the pre-established levels of intimacy, performing these functions for a near stranger felt surprisingly natural. In a similar manner, she continually draws us back into the narrative by asking audience members about their own experiences with injury, grief, fear, and connection. Despite the emotional weight of such questions, O’Loughlin’s non-confrontational style encourages sharing and makes Broken Bone Bathtub as much our story as it is hers.
Through this deceptively simple framework, Broken Bone Bathtub encompasses all the strengths and fragilities of the human experience: the fallible bodies on which we rely, the bonds that sustain us, and our capacity for humor, strength, and empathy in dark times. Whether we have found ourselves in the role of caretaker or cared-for, felt fear or shame in our bodies, searched for meaning or struggled to connect, I cannot think of a single person who could not relate to the piece on some level. More importantly, its challenge to directly interact with this humanity reminds us that we are not alone in our joy, awkwardness, or suffering, and more capable of making a difference than we may realize. If we, like O’Loughlin and her activist friends, believe a kinder world can exist, Broken Bone Bathtub helps us create that world, one bath at a time.
(Broken Bone Bathtub plays at various locations around New York City through February 26, 2017. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7 and 9, and Sundays at 2 and 4. The neighborhood is given for each date on the website; exact location will be provided with your ticket purchase. Tickets are $35; for tickets and more information visit brokenbonebathtub.com.)
Broken Bone Bathtub is created and performed by Siobhan O’Loughlin. Presented by Broken Bone Bathtub, in association with Producers Jenny Reed & Alex Tobey.