This article originally appeared in print in INDYWEEK, 1/8/2014, with the headline “Who’s afraid of getting old?” and online on Indyweek.com with the title “Two adventurous couples in Seascape.”
Edward Albee has written many plays of a scale suitable for production by small, even ephemeral, groups in modest black box spaces. Mostly Albee requires ruthless engagement with intimate human passions and a vast appreciation for foible and anomaly.
Theater artists are not the only ones with those qualities. Many attorneys exhibit them, too, and it’s an attorney who directs Albee’s relatively gentle 1975 Pulitzer-winning Seascape, in which a quartet—one human couple, one giant sea lizard couple—poke and push at one another as they struggle to figure out how to get on with life on the far side of middle age. Brook North organized South Stream Productions in order to put on the three-actor play Copenhagen a year ago; Seascape is his first production since.
After some initial stiffness, Julie Oliver and John Honeycutt, as Nancy and Charlie, sashayed through the skirmishes of the long-married couple just after Charlie ‘s retirement. They are on a beach. He’s trying to nap; he’s “earned some rest,” he says. Nancy, though, is all for action. In her mind, now that she’s gotten her family raised and her man back from the world of work, there’s a new kind of freedom. She’s all for a course of action radically different from any they’ve known. She’d like to sell up and make a vagabond life, going from beach to beach. She wants to see far continents from their coastlines.
The first act sets up the questions, philosophical and practical, facing Nancy and Charlie, and airs their past while quickly limning their psychologies. This is a wonderful role for Oliver, and she goes to town with it, delivering Albee-esque bombshells with utter cool. Honeycutt is more quietly expressive, making his explosions more unsettling (and he’s as charming as ever, with that twinkling eye), but you have to like talk to appreciate this play. The people can hardly move about—much of the stage space is filled with an encroaching sand dune, which Nancy sometimes mounts in her pushing at the boundaries of their small flat space. She prods Charlie into telling of his glorious experiences of sinking underwater and becoming one with that liquid environment. Then she nags him to “go under” again.
In the meantime, the lizard couple, Leslie (Ryan Brock) and Sarah (Samantha Corey), having completed their fertile years, have decided to go up, and explore life on land. As Act 2 opens, the lizards come over the dune. From this point, South Stream’s Seascape is delightful. Brock and Corey are fantastic, their physicality increasing the sense of pressure in the scene. Shannon Clark’s costumes, with stupendous tails, cover them completely, leaving only their faces to be made up in beautiful green and yellow patterns. The interactions between lizards and humans are enlightening to all, and often evoke gusts of laughter from the audience. What a great start to the 2014 year in theater.
SEASCAPES continues Jan. 10-12 and Jan. 16-19 at Durham’s Common Ground Theatre. For ticket information, click here.