Meghan Reardon, Todd Michael Kiech, Antonio Brunetti and Anne Sheridan Smith in Vitalist Theatre's "Pool (No Water)."

Meghan Reardon, Todd Michael Kiech, Antonio Brunetti and Anne Sheridan Smith in Vitalist Theatre's "Pool (No Water)." (August 30, 2012)

"Pool (No Water)"

Envy comes in any number of different stripes, but among the artistic classes it can be especially hysteria-inducing. Picture a group of young dysfunctional creative types. One member of the group, perhaps the least talented of them all, hits the jackpot, and a decade later invites her old friends to her palatial home where a midnight excursion in skinny-dipping goes terribly wrong. The hostess, blinded by the darkness of the night — or perhaps blinded the smug satisfaction that success affords — takes a swan dive off the diving board into a pool that had been drained of water earlier that day.

"Pool (No Water)" is primarily concerned with the aftermath of that accident. The group (as they call themselves) tends to the comatose friend (who is never seen and referred to only as "she" and "her") as she lies prone in the hospital. Eventually, someone pulls out a camera and begins to snap images of the mangled body, because what is modern life if not an exercise in documenting everything? A tragedy? Sure. Their ticket to art world celebrity? You bet. And though their actions inspire some guilt, there is also a deep measure of satisfaction. Karmic revenge will be theirs!

This uneasy mix of emotions is something Chicago actors in particular can understand with great intimacy, and it is precisely the kind of show they can sink teeth into with real conviction.

And yet Mark Ravenhill's 2006 play is no easy task. The mystery of the story unfurls in tantalizing bits as members of "the group" address the audience in alternating monologues. (Scenic designer Courtney O'Neill has created a terrific-looking set that evokes life trapped at the bottom of an empty swimming pool.) Apparently, productions have the freedom to cast as many (or as few) actors as a director chooses. A production in Los Angeles in the spring had a cast of 11; in New York it was five. Vitalist Theatre director Liz Carlin Metz (no relation to this reporter) has gone with four actors, in yoga clothes — two men and two women.

Considering the tight confines of the space, this reduction is a wise choice, but only one actor — the exceptional Anne Sheridan Smith, who brings to mind a slightly less unhinged version of Nancy Grace — manages to establish a distinctive (and sardonic) personality. Alas, there is no emotional or even intellectual connection to the other three on stage; they are simply saying words (and in rather shaky British accents, at that). Fundamentally, the group never feels like a group, but a collection of actors struggling to connect with the ideas in Ravenhill's script.

The monologues, by the way, are punctuated by moments of clumsy abstract movement, something called "contact improvisation," which is not really dance, or, rather, these are not really dancers. Movement of this sort needs to express something — something that can't be put into words, exactly. The cast captures a sense of frenzied energy, but beyond that it looks and feels like filler.

Through Sept. 30 at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave.; $25 at 773-404-7336 or greenhousetheater.org

"Susan Swayne and the Bewildered Bride"

Here is a show that ticks some of my favorite boxes: a Victorian London setting, a cheeky sense of humor and the format of a procedural that holds the promise of a female version of Sherlock Holmes, with some hefty stage combat thrown in courtesy of Chicago theater company Babes with Blades.

And yet playwright Reina Hardy's script lacks the very specificity that it promises, and the story makes not a lick of sense. If Dan Foss' production moved at a swifter clip, and the comedy was more finely honed, that might not matter so much. As it is, the show's strongest element is Lisa Herceg as the title character and the only member of the Society of Lady Detectives who doesn't seem like a dithering idiot. Her Swayne is smart, swift and somewhat standoffish until circumstances force her to shed decorum. It is a hoot of a performance.

Through Sept. 22 at the Lincoln Square Theatre, 4754 N. Levitt; $20 at babeswithblades.org

nmetz@tribune.com