nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
April 25, 2007
The Sea, by Edward Bond, seems to me to be an interesting play. It takes place in a village on the east coast of England in 1907. A young man is killed in an accident at sea; the townspeople mourn, some extravagantly (for example, his fiancee's aunt, the richest woman in the area, wears her supposed grief quite liberally on her sleeve); one man, the draper Hatch, decides the man who was in the boat with him and didn't drown is some kind of alien devil. The play feels as though it's more about atmosphere than plot; in its conveyance of a stifling provincial world out of which any intelligent and/or ambitious young person must get, it reminded me of the works of William Inge. I think I would enjoy a good production of The Sea.
Alas, The Actors Company Theatre has not supplied one. At two-and-a-half hours, this production must be the longest one-act play ever: Scott Alan Evans's staging drags at a maddeningly slow pace, trying the patience of even the most ardent theatre-lover. The set, designed by Narelle Sissons, consists of several large wooden cabinets or armoires, some of which open up to create accoutrements for, say, the draper's shop or the aunt's drawing room. They're impressive looking, but immensely cumbersome (the transitions between scenes are each several minutes too long because of the time spent rearranging this clumsy furniture); furthermore this non-naturalistic and slightly whimsical device is severely at odds with the tone of the production, which drains just about all of the comedy from what feels and reads like a pretty humane script.
Similarly, Evans has the actors mill around the stage at the beginning of each of the two halves (there is an intermission, though if the play had been paced properly, one would surely not be required). This self-consciously arty technique also has no basis in the script, as far as I can tell.
The actors mostly do as well as can be expected under the circumstances, with a few notable exceptions. Delphi Harrington, who has the showy role of Aunt Louise, manages to simultaneously overact and underplay, creating a charmless gorgon in place of the gentle parody or genuine three-dimensional woman this character ought to be. Gregory Salata is compelling as Evens, the town outcast, but his accent is inexplicably Henry-Higgins-King's-English when one would imagine his character is native to the locale of the play. Indeed, the dialect work in general is wildly diverse; Jamie Bennett as a harassed young man under the spell of the draper seems most comfortable with the accent among the company members.
So TACT's production of The Sea is a chore to sit through, which is a shame because the company definitely has an admirable mission and the play itself, rarely seen in these parts, feels like one worth taking in.