Sponsored link
Friday, September 18, 2020
Sponsored link
Arts + Culture Review: In 'Seascape,' a day at the beach—with giant...

Review: In ‘Seascape,’ a day at the beach—with giant lizards

ACT's production of Edward Albee's Pulitzer-winning play weighs big questions on domestic, and reptilian, scales.

-

ONSTAGE Sparkling white sands spilling over the stage. Tufts of spindly sea grass. The sound of waves breaking gently in the distance, accompanied by a faint chorus of gulls. Even before the curtain goes up on Edward Albee’s Seascape at ACT’s Geary Theater (through February 17), you are at once transported to the seaside.

And when it does go up, the sands seem to go on forever in a stretch of dunes and breakers, a setting so serene that you don’t even question Nancy’s (Ellen McLaughlin) desire to stay there forever. Nancy’s rhapsodizing about roaming beaches from Hawaii to Bali is addressed to her husband Charlie (James Carpenter) who is lolling on a blanket under the dunes, next to a picnic basket, a bottle of wine and a couple of pillows.

Charlie doesn’t want to travel the world’s beaches, in fact, he says, he just wants to do nothing.

Perturbed by his response, Nancy goes on at length about her desire to travel the globe, and why this is the right time of their life—retirement, empty nest—to take this adventure. “We are not going to be around forever, Charlie, and you may not do nothing!” Nancy insists. Her voice is so mellifluous and her travel plan so inviting that Charlie seems even more of a curmudgeon for refusing her.

Playwright Albee’s uncanny ear for relationship dialog—just the right combination of tender persuasion, gentle digs, reluctant agreements, and threats of separation—is at perfect pitch in this engaging first act. His Pulitzer-Prize wining drama is in the adept hands of director Pam MacKinnon, who has directed a dozen Albee plays since first collaborating with him in 2002. She won a Tony for directing his iconic Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf on Broadway. It’s no wonder she chose an Albee play for her debut as a director since taking the helm as Artistic Director of ACT.

The brilliant set design by David Zinn (who also designed the costumes) is enhanced by Isabella Byrds’s skill in capturing that rare light of the Atlantic sea coast. Brendan James’ sound design includes the varied calls of seagulls and the annoying roar of airplanes passing overhead.

But at the end of Act I, it seems that Albee’s penchant for domestic dialogue is going to be upended. Frustrated by her husband’s lack of curiosity, Nancy, barefoot and in cut-off jeans, climbs to the top of the dunes. She spies two figures on the beach who seem to be coming out from a swim.

Moments later those figures silently slither along the dunes: They are giant green lizards, complete with long tails. When they see the human couple, the larger of the two picks up a huge branch. Alarmed, Nancy instructs Charlie to lie on his back with his feet and arms up—in a gesture of submission—and smile!

But the lizards, who introduce themselves with the rather prosaic names of Leslie (Seann Gallagher) and Sarah (Sarah Nina Hayon) turn out to be fully capable of engaging in Albee’s famous relationship talk, including “Yes, dear” marital moments of their own. Not only that, they chat in English while being completely convincing as lizards, with just the right twitch of the neck and planting of the padded feet. Gallagher and Hayon fully inhabit their lizard bodies, aided by scaly green costumes by Zinn and reptilian movement coaching by Danyon Davis.

While the males circle warily around each other, Nancy and Sarah find common bonds, talking about children, mammary glands and other body parts. Sarah is intrigued by Nancy’s breasts and the human handshake. McLaughlin shines with a lively pantomime as she tries to explain the concept of human emotions to the uncomprehending Sarah.

As the younger and older couples get to know each other, it almost seems like an absurdist version of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

Ellen McLaughlin and James Carpenter in ‘Seascape.’ Photo by Kevin Berne

Tenuously, they explore each other, and find they have some things in common: Nancy’s desire to leave their current life and explore the world is echoed in Sarah’s reasons for emerging from the primordial soup to see a different way of living. Leslie asserts they simply left their sea environment because he didn’t like being surrounded by fish. His assertion that “fish are stupid” offends Charlie who earlier had relished his childhood memories of sitting on the bottom of the sea and wishing he were a fish.

Despite their commonalities, the couples have a hard time understanding each other. Sarah wants to know how a human couple can have only three children, instead of thousands: “What if they float away?” she asks bewildered. Charlie insists on knowing why the lizards came up out of the sea, seeing another iteration of evolution. “And do you know what happened once, kind of the crowning moment for me? It was when some slimy creature poked his head out of the muck, looked around and decided to spend some time up here.” Leslie is confused. “Is that what we did?”

When the talk devolves into abstractions, the wit and warmth of the dialogue seems trail off into non sequitors. There are moments when even the characters seem to lose interest in the huge questions at hand. But when the foursome gets back to recognizing and embracing their relationships, the sparkle returns.

“Art is not pacification,” Albee wrote. “It’s a disturbance.”

What could be more disturbing than accepting that prehistoric lizards face the same dilemmas as we humans? Disturbing, but in the hands of MacKinnon and this marvelous cast, it’s also a wonderful way to spend an afternoon on a beach.

SEASCAPE
Through Feb 17
ACT Geary Theater, SF.
Tickets and more info here.

Sponsored link

More by this author

Review: ‘Gloria’ reveals what lurks beneath office culture’s bright lights

If you’ve ever worked in an office—and, face it, who hasn’t—the stage set for Gloria (through April 12 at ACT's Strand Theater) will feel...

Review: ‘Mimi’s Suitcase’ packs a lot in, but destination is cloudy

Even before the play begins, a red suitcase is in full view, slightly stage right, on an otherwise empty set. During the course of the...

Review: Hanukkah with the Klezmatics? You bet your latkes.

On December 22, The Klezmatics celebrated the first night of Hanukkah at the SFJAZZ  but—unfortunately for San Franciscans—unlike the oil in the Macabees’ lamp,...

With women at its center, ‘Amaluna’ sparkles and charms

I can’t even count how many times I held my breath or clutched on to my seat.  Or put my palms over my eyes,...

Review: A fiery intellect bound by exoticism in ‘The Chinese Lady’

Even as the audience files in, we are already part of the play, or rather, the exhibition. Atung (Will Dao) sits in front of...
Sponsored link

Most read

The rich aren’t leaving SF — they own it

Developers cry crocodile tears to win political points -- but in the end, planners may have to admit they bungled the future of Soma.

The most important political story of 2020 that nearly every campaign is ignoring

The very rich stole $50 trillion from the rest of us in the past 45 years. Why aren't we all outraged?

Screen Grabs: Bring on the zombies!

A bloom of horror in a pandemic, with #Alive, Spiral, Ravers, The Devil All the Time, more. Plus: Fort Mason drive-in opens

Naima Shalhoub wields strength of community on debut studio album ‘SIPHR’

The multi-faceted Oakland musician summons Lebanese heritage on follow-up to 'Live in San Francisco County Jail.'

The Agenda: State housing battle plays out before SF supes

Mar wants ABAG to recognize that SF has already approved more luxury housing that it needs.

Remembering Kool & The Gang’s perpetual reincarnation, in the wake of Ronald Bell’s passing

The legendary group maintained a five-decade career through reinvention—and its cofounder's expansive songwriting.

Now Watch This: Ride away the summer on these 5 new music videos

It's all in the visuals for this second installation of our music video column—with new work from Fontaines D.C., Frank Ivy, Sylvan Esso, and more.

Nancy Pelosi just announced her retirement

Rep. Nancy Pelosi cut a deal that will put her in the position of House speaker for four more years (assuming the Democrats retain...

Photographer Dorothea Lange’s archive now available online at OMCA

The collection presents the iconic Lange as the personable creator she was—and a local picturmaker to boot.

Wiener attacks SF supes

State Senator says board is not functional and harks back to his own days as a supe -- which were only "collegial" when it meant helping Big Tech
Sponsored link

You might also likeRELATED