Walter Mencken 11 a.m., May 24
Seascape at New Village Arts
Edward Albee's evolutionary comedy won the Pulitzer in 1975. Must've been a slow year on the prize circuit. It's a gentle piece, even when angry, and especially when compared to Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It's about making transitions and facing what may, or may not, follow.
Nancy and Charlie loll amid sand dunes and waves lapping on the shore of an unnamed East Coast beach - maybe in the Hamptons, maybe Montauk, where Albee had a residence. They've done everything society required: married, remained faithful, had children and grandchildren, and worked hard, and are recently retired.
There are few specifics. In many ways they're a generic couple who touched all the bases. So what next?
Charlie would love to vegetate. Either that or devolve back into the ocean. Nancy (a "traditional" wife and the motivator of the two) says although they've "enjoyed so much of it," they were slaves to duty and have "earned a little life, if you ask me."
So: repeat the past, or venture into the unknown?
Enter Leslie and Sarah, human-sized, scaly sea creatures facing an identical dilemma. Without knowing the terminology or significance, they've decided to leave the "water" and start new lives on land. They felt "a sense of not belonging any more."
(You can tear the play to shreds if you look too closely: the creatures speak perfect English, for example - and how can they do that? - yet don't know the meaning of basic words, like "death," and be as innocent as Adam and Eve).
After wary introductions, Nancy and Charlie explain what it means to be human: emotions, birth, marriage, loss of loved ones.
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? lambasted marriage, even hinted that our Founding Parents, George and Martha W. were toxic. Seascape looks at marriage from a different direction: Nancy and Charlie got it right, but as the play proceeds, their abrasions escalate - Nancy calls hers "petulance". Contact with creatures from the Blue Beyond, whether real or in their heads, helps them face tomorrow anew.
I've seen three productions of Seascape. One dove for the cute. The cartoony creatures stole the show. The second went for the profundity, enamored, apparently by Albee's frequent name-dropping - Proust, Descarte - and French expressions, and was a solemn dud.
New Village smartly asked Kim Strassburger to direct. The story still unfolds slowly and the characters do go on, but she's given the play a much-needed balance between the real and absurdist elements.
She's helped by Kristianne Kurner's seaside set, Matt Lescault-Wood's sounds (beach ambiance shattered by roaring jets so near we could be prone on a runway at Miramar); most of all by Shirley Pierson's wonderful costumes: the creatures wear olive drab, skintight outfits with rose-colored, rooster-like combs on on their heads and down their spines. Justin Lang (Leslie) and Amanda Morrow (Sarah) meld graceful, athletic movements so precisely that a twitching neck or snaking tongue signal emotions held in common. Morrow gives Sarah a captivating nativete/curiosity.
Jack Missett relies too heavily on a foggy voice - as if playing James Stewart with a sore throat - and makes Charlie seem working class, though his vocabulary suggests an academic background (Missett dropped the mannerism in the long second act and his peformance improved). Dana Case plays Nancy with gentle persistence and pitch-perfect deliveries.
This Seascape's probably as good as we'll see. Although the visuals are a delight, there's less here than meets the ear.
News Village Arts, 2787 B State Street, Carlsbad, playing through June 9.