nytheatre.com review by David Vining
July 17, 2009
Seal Songs by Jennifer Fell Hayes is an appealing bit of sentimental whimsy. It is presented as two tales of lost love that take place in the same house30 years apart. As a group they are slight, but do manage to carry some genuine emotional content.
The first act, or tale—"Deep Water"—tells of Nora, a lonely woman grieving the death of the mother she has nursed her entire adult life; and Alan, the handyman she hires to install a picture window. Nora wants the window so she can better view the sea. Specifically, she has developed an interest in seals after a notable close-up meeting she has with one in the bay. Alan, it turns out, is also a bit lonely. He is still reeling from a divorce. Nora courts Alan in her own polite and quirky way, and Alan is not averse to her attentions. The pair form a special bond over classical music, which he hums and whistles while he works and which she appreciates greatly. As things grow more complicated between the two, Nora continually turns back to her seal for comfort.
Katie Atcheson's characterization of Nora rides the fine line between endearing and irritating, ending up conveying both attributes while allowing the audience to laugh at her foibles. Richard Kent Green's Alan, on the other hand, is all charm. With his regional accent, well-groomed mustache, and unerring kindness, Alan wins both Nora and the audience from the first word he utters. Green shines in this humble but gallant role.
The scenes between the two are both adorable and heartbreaking as they ease into a relationship that is cut short too soon. I smiled and squirmed as they flirt in slow motion, neither wanting to make the first move or back away. It is a joy to watch. Less compelling are the monologues which mostly elucidate the seal element of the story. With the exception of the last speech, they seem underdeveloped and I found myself waiting for the return of the scenes.
The second part of the evening, "Overboard", is not as successful. The rather flimsy premise finds a second divorcee, Peter, and a mysterious and possibly mystical woman, Selena, washed up on the beach in a storm. The whole thing seems a bit silly after the first play. This piece, according to the program notes, was "made to measure" to accompany the first play, and it does have the feeling of an afterthought.
Atcheson seems to be channeling a randy Eliza Doolittle much of the time. Green's over-the-top wig is also a hindrance and serves only to play up the relatively low brow humor that marks most of "Overboard." When the dramatic climax comes, it goes against the grain of the broad comedy of the rest of the piece. Much of the potential power is lost in the shuffle.
The simple design of the evening adds to the mood quite nicely, owing mostly to a fine bit of scenic painting by Brian Kalin creating an impressionistic backdrop that elicits the romance of the sea. The presentation of the evening, if not the content, is quite well unified. It is a tribute the hard work of the company, and the poetic flair of the playwright, that despite the imbalance of the two scripts, the audience leaves smiling and even a little misty.