Photograph by Kimberly N.
My only other memories of the Lemp Mansion are scurrying in to find a clue for a Halloween scavenger hunt, ghost stories my friends have divulged, or the occasional stroll by the property with my husband on a fall day. Now this old house is also painted by the memory of a twenty-something New Yorker soaked in bath suds charming strangers into pouring their hearts out in a vintage bathroom. Yes, a bathroom. Broken Bone Bathtub is brilliantly presented in a bathroom to just a handful of curious audience members, and a disarming host.
The setting is immediately intimate: a small room, a private space, bare skin. She makes eye contact; she faces us. We are mere feet away, and I can see the perspiration dotting her forehead. The hot water melts away reservation or embarrassment. Siobhan (it seems appropriate to call her by her first name) feels like Siobhan to her audience, not so much acting as chatting, regaling memories and inviting the audience to share theirs. The artist masterfully crafts a safe space for her crowd to bare itself in the process of her baring hers.
Brightly cast-clad, O'Loughlin starts the piece framing the memory of injury, meandering into childhood recollections of comfort and connection. She pauses and locks eyes with a middle-aged woman in the front row. “Would you wash my back for me? Here is the soap, and there is the wash cloth.” The woman takes only a second to hesitate before she is sitting on the edge of the bathtub, scrubbing with a tenderness and attention that one would only give one’s child. They looked like mother and daughter. While being cleansed, O'Loughlin laughs her signature fully-belly laugh and continues to share her narrative, weaving in the audience’s stories seamlessly with her own.
The audience begins to understand that this bike accident, for Siobhan, was an opportunity to her to bare herself to herself. It beseeched her to confront not just this, but other wounds in her life. We watch her piece together different strands of her experience, connecting broken parts into a greater sense of self. As she invites audience members in to wash her, take care of her, to share their own wounds and moments of vulnerability, the space transforms into what feels like a slumber party—Siobhan trusts you, so you trust her, and you trust the people sitting next to you.
The actress appreciates tenderness. She wants to know she will be cared for. She wants to take care of you. She wants to connect. She is searching for something. O'Loughlin is still processing this profound moment of the bike injury, and Broken Bone Bathtub seems itself a part of the healing process. Does she know how much others needed this bath, this therapy, this connection?
As the show travels to different bathtubs—some in private residencies—it is meant to be as fluid as the soapy water itself. It will evolve with each audience, with each individual participant, with each new setting, and with each bathtub.
When most of us go to a play, we expect to watch someone perform. We don’t expect to inquire directly into our own lives, nor do we expect to physically connect with one another. Broken Bone Bathtub uses cleansing as a metaphor, invites healing both physical and emotional, and does so with an insistence that hugs you like warm bathwater.
Broken Bone Bathtub is co-presented by The Drama Club STL and That Uppity Theatre Company. Performances run through June 26. For venues, times, and prices, visit thedramaclubstl.com.