Room for introspection

Siobhan O’Loughlin and the healing power of ‘Broken Bone Bathtub’

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Siobhan O'Loughlin in 'Broken Bone Bathtub'
Zach DeLon

There’s no room more vulnerable than the bathroom. It’s where we stand too close to the mirror and examine our pores, where we drop trou and bathe or relieve ourselves, where we put on make-up or shave our whiskers while giving ourselves pep talks before we head into a fast-paced world. It’s where we look down at the scale and judge ourselves against the images and numbers in our minds. It’s a place where we take care of ourselves, whether that’s with a long bubble bath and a book, or a bandage and some antibiotic ointment on a cut finger.

For the most part, the bathroom is a solitary place (parents of young children, I see you and I hear your protestations), and because of that, it’s perhaps the ultimate room for introspection.

But what does introspection look like when we can’t do it alone — in the bathroom, that is. When you can’t undress yourself or wash your back or even get your whole right arm wet because there’s a cast on it, how does that introspective bathroom time change when we have to ask others for help?

In her one-woman play, Broken Bone Bathtub, Siobhan O’Loughlin explores human vulnerability in this most vulnerable of rooms, inviting a small audience (between 10  and 18 people) into a real bathroom in a real home where she takes a real bath and talks about her real life.

And it’s real good.

“You don’t have to believe me,” O’Loughlin tells the Denver audience at the Sept. 6 premier, covered in bubbles in a clawfoot tub. “You just have to believe that I’m doing the best I can, and I’ll believe you’re doing the best you can.”

Several years ago, O’Loughlin had a bike accident in Brooklyn that left her spirit as broken as her right hand. Sitting in a rain-soaked intersection with only a stranger to help her, O’Loughlin began a journey. It started in her friends’ bathtubs where the ever-anxious O’Loughlin bathed after her accident because she didn’t trust herself to keep her cast dry in her apartment’s shower-only setup. It eventually took her around the world to talk candidly with strangers about trauma, suffering, generosity and connection — all very naked in a bubble bath.

Her friends offered much more than just their bathrooms; they helped wash her hair, brought her wine and chocolates or made her dinner. They offered warm bathrobes and long conversations.

The fiercely independent O’Loughlin began to question her choices in life.

“I began to think of all the people I had shut out in my life,” she tells the audience, tears in her eyes, scooping bubbles around her.

So she invited us all in.

Initially, Broken Bone Bathtub was meant to be a 30-minute monologue based on journals O’Loughlin kept during her recovery, but after the world premier at an Airbnb in Tokyo turned into an hour-long interactive conversation with the audience, O’Loughlin ran with what felt natural.

To date, she’s performed the show in Australia, Ireland, the U.K. and across the U.S. In total she’s been naked and honest with complete strangers in five countries and nearly 300 bathtubs.

The real beauty is the variability in each show; the Sept. 6 show included stories about psychedelic mushroom trips gone wrong, broken spines and aging parents, all from audience members. More than once an audience member elicited hearty laugher from O’Loughlin and the rest of the crowd. As one audience member told a story of growing up “the fat kid,” several others nodded their heads and murmured statements of solidarity.

We talk with O’Loughlin like she’s our friend; we help wash her back and hair and use lotion to give her a hand massage. Together, the audience works through individual pain, injustice and trauma, sussing out what worked and what didn’t work.

With at least half the audience’s knees touching the lip of the tub, it’s impossible to escape the intimacy of the show — even more impossible with O’Loughlin’s gentle and warm demeanor. It seems wrong not to open up, even just a little bit, and share something when O’Loughlin looks you in the eye and asks if you’ve ever been jealous, or wonders if there was ever a time you were embarrassed to call your parents. You find yourself rethinking moments long gone, and re-evaluating their meaning in your life.

You believe O’Loughlin, you believe yourself, and most importantly you believe other people. And for at least an hour, the world feels like a very loving place.

On the Bill: Broken Bone Bathtub — presented by The Enchantment Society and Siobhan O’Loughlin. The Lakewood Glens, Denver. Exact location provided to ticket holders day-of-show.