Seascape with Sharks and Dancer
nytheatre.com review by Heather McAllister
October 24, 2009
Some playwrights, such as the prolific Don Nigro, are quick to give audiences plays filled with "real" relationships, tackling "real" troubles. Their apparent goal is a kind of "warts and all" honesty. In Seascape with Sharks and Dancer, this translates as ugly people—pretty on the outside—spilling their emotional vomit all over the stage. In theory, the characters have such strong inner appeal that we look past them pushing us away with their various devices: abuse, violence, ill manners, stoicism, etc., to see the beautiful yet damaged people inside. Seascape with Sharks and Dancer is intended to be such a play, but for me it did not reach its goal.
We meet Tracey, a sexy/trashy damaged-goods type of girl, who from the minute she opens her mouth does her best to repulse her new man/rescuer Ben. While expertly wrapped in a blanket, she throws books, stomps around his cottage, slurps her hot chocolate "with mushrooms" in a revolting manner that I think is supposed to be cute, and insults Ben with such gusto it's hard to believe she almost drowned half an hour before—until he plucked her from the sea. She is so unfailingly obnoxious it's hard to understand why he doesn't scoop her up and dump her right back in.
For the remainder of the play, Tracey goes on insulting Ben, and for some unexplained reason he finds this enchanting. True, she's hot. But so is he, although he is wimpy in the extreme, constantly apologizing in an obsequious manner. As the play progresses, her level of abuse and his acceptance of it becomes truly insane. Their co-dependent relationship is so ugly, I did not for one minute root for these lovers, instead I really wanted to jump into the ocean myself to escape them.
We are supposed to see past their horribly scarred emotional exteriors to fragile self-defending interiors: needing only true love and a new daddy figure to make it all better (her), and a shy, desperate-to-come-out-of-his-shell novelist (him). We are intended to look past the verbal abuse, the sadist/masochist relationship to see the little Juliet and Romeo on the inside. Instead, we see a hateful self indulgent toddler/woman and a needy blob of a man.
Executive producer/actress Luciana Faulhaber is very beautiful, with a charming Brazilian accent. I wish she could have shown the charm and beauty of the fragile girl inside the abrasive Tracey, the girl who wants desperately for Ben to save her from the emotional drowning she's experiencing. And Adam Griffin as Ben is also gorgeous. But his Ben remained unchanged from the first moment to the last.
Navigating a relationship play is treacherous, but can be done. It requires nakedness of the spirit, not just the body. It requires honesty and willingness to show the inner yearnings and hurts, not just enjoying throwing abuse and objects around the stage, or taking it.
When a mirror fell off the stage wall near the end of the play, the actors glanced at it and then pretended nothing happened. Distracting. The empty hot chocolate mugs and pretend slurping, also distracting. But during the climatic scene when—without giving it away—Tracey tries to destroy two things Ben values most dearly, his robotlike unresponsive manner was more than distracting, it was disappointing and confusing.
During curtain call, the actors beamed and seemed genuinely warm and likable. I wish them the best, and hope they will avoid this type of play in the future.