THE BASICS: This 1973 theater piece by English playwright Edward Bond calls itself A Comedy, but that is somewhat misleading. It’s more of an Adventure in Deep Dish Philosophy, with Interwoven Tragic and Farcical elements. Or, as the Pythons used to say, “Now for something completely different!” THE SEA runs in repertory at the Court House Theatre through October 12th. Eda Holmes directs a cast of fourteen. The play, with its single intermission, runs two hours and twenty minutes.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: The action takes place in 1907, in a small village on the East coast of England, and on the neighboring beach. As the play begins, a couple of young seamen, caught in a storm, capsize right off the coast. Colin, the elder, on his way to his betrothed, Rose Jones, drowns. Willy, his good friend, survives but is dazed, spiritually adrift. Willy finds himself drawn to the grief-stricken Rose. The townsfolk, meanwhile, attend to the end-of-life details, right through to a cliff-top scattering of ashes that goes hilariously awry.
THE PLAY, THE PLAYERS AND THE PRODUCTION: People are going to react quite differently to this play, I think. Some will find it magical, an adroit melding of disparate elements. Others will throw up their hands, and dismiss it as a hopeless hodge-podge. Though I do lean in this direction, I’ve found that parts of THE SEA have stuck around in my head for a good deal longer than I thought they would. Playwright Bond takes a very dim view of humans and their behavior. Moreover, of Life itself. Struggling depressives may want to steer clear! Not that there aren’t some very funny stretches—there are! Particularly memorable are the town’s (highly) amateur theatrical, based on the Orpheus legend (and reminiscent of the Pyramus and Thisbe playlet in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM) and the scattering-of-ashes scene, complete with competitive psalm-singing! Bond tries to finish on an upbeat note, with newly minted lovers heading off to a (perhaps) brighter tomorrow. But given all the preceding downbeat philosophy, you won’t be leaving the theater with a big grin on your puss.
Multiple cast members shine. Fiona Reid (who is a little off-the-mark in THE CHARITY THAT BEGAN AT HOME) is perfect as Louise Rafi, the town’s Rock, its Purveyor of Civilization. We take pleasure in her natural bossiness, and in the endless little digs she dishes out to the rubes and loons who surround her. Her final, eagle-eyed appraisal both of herself and of the life that eventually awaits her, is simultaneously humorous and touching.
Patrick Galligan, usually so dapper and urbane onstage, gets a delightful reprieve here as Hatch, the draper. A wild-eyed conspiracy theorist, fixated on aliens, Hatch goes completely bonkers in the second act. Mr. Galligan has fun chewing the scenery. Peter Millard, another seasoned veteran, is in fine form as Evens, the beach-dwelling, self-imposed outcast. His now craggy face and assured demeanor are just right for role of the the Wise Old Fool. Patty Jamieson gets some good laughs as Mrs. Tilehouse, Louise’s snippy sergeant-at-arms, who’s determined to best her with frilly vocalizations at the memorial service. Fetching Julia Course gives another strong portrayal as the heartbroken Rose. The dissimilarity of the ingénue parts in THE SEA and in THE CHARITY THAT BEGAN AT HOME speaks to her range as an actor. I hope that we shall see her advance soon into leading lady roles!
The direction by Eda Holmes is decidedly inventive, right from the opening duet for old fashioned wind machine and thunder clapper! Gigantic blue-black sheets, I presume the creation of designer Camellia Koo, are repeatedly set in motion by the cast, keeping the sea front and center in our consciousness. The lovely period costumes are by Michael Gianfrancesco. The evocative lighting is by Kevin LaMotte.
IN SUM: There are many things to love about THE SEA, although I am afraid that the whole is a little less than the sum of its estimable parts. THE SEA not for all tastes, but adventurous theatergoers should give it serious consideration. Rounding up a little, I’ll award it
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!