Who’s afraid of Edward Albee? Certainly not anyone attending the current production of his “Seascape” at TheatreWorks in New Milford.
Here is a definitive production, directed by Chesley Plemmons whose critical insight and deep appreciation of the play as well as a flair for the dramatic moment has brought this classic back to life. Mr. Plemmons not only makes this Albee work accessible, but easily understood even though there are many layers to this complex play about evolution, communication, and adaptability. It doesn’t take long to see through the symbolic layers because they are so clearly presented here.
At first, the characters Nancy and Charlie, played by Noel Desiato and J. Scott Williams respectively, seem like yet another version of the quarreling couple, George and Martha in Mr. Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Such is not the case. Nancy and Charlie are not as bombastic. Nancy’s and Charlie’s lives are about to transform as they face retirement. Nancy wants to do more than ever. She wants to live life to the fullest as a seaside nomad. Charlie wants to do nothing. He just wants to rest.
As they enjoy the seaside, symbolic of where life first began, they reminisce about the past. “I wanted to be a woman,” said Nancy recalling her childhood fantasy. “And I suppose I have become that,” she adds, suggesting the evolution from childhood to adulthood.
Then the two contemplate the future. Since both of their roles in their marriage are changing, we witness another mutation. This time, it is within a marriage. The two communicate their ideas, but only through redefining terms and explanations. Everything is in a state of change.
Nancy is aware of it as she wonders out loud, “We’ve served out time, Charlie, and there’s nothing telling us do that or any conditional; not any more…well, there’s always the cancer or a heart attack to think about… but beside all these things…what is there?”
What neither Nancy nor Charlie expected was the arrival of two beautiful green and gold human-sized lizards that appear on the shore. These creatures underline Mr. Albee’s central theme of evolution. The two lizards, Leslie, played by James Hipp and Sarah, played by Desirae Carle, have come on shore to start a new way of life.
At first the humans were afraid of the lizards and vice versa. Having witnessed the two humans trying to get their ideas across to each other, now audiences observe two animals communicating with each other. The comparison of the two couples is not only amusing, but enlightening. This is especially true when the humans try to communicate with the lizards. In short order, both species begin to communicate effectively. The lizards explain that they came ashore because they felt they didn’t belong in the sea world anymore. Not only does this underline the evolution theme, but it exemplifies the playwright’s feelings of not belonging.
Abandoned at birth and adopted by a wealthy but less than loving couple, he struggled with feelings of belonging. He always wondered what it would be like to be in a family with a real mother and father. So, in addition to focusing on evolution and communication, this play is also highly autobiographical. The lizards feel out of place in their world, and the humans are feeling out of place from their earlier parental stage.
Noel Desiato as Nancy is at her finest here. An actress who has tackled everything from classic Greek drama to comedy and one-woman roles expertly, she can now hang a well deserved star on her dressing room door for a demanding dramatic role. Clever and wistful one moment, beware of her easy smile because this actress can turn that smile into a sting without batting an eye. J. Scott Williams plays a steadfast Charlie convincingly as well as one who threatens and is threatened. James Hipp is a magnificient Lizard as is Desirae Carle as his gentle mate.
Leslie Neilson Bowman’s lizard costumes splattered with green, blue, aqua and gold are as stunning as they are imaginatively colorful. Kudos to this exceptional costume designer. Glenn Couture’s and Richard Pettibone’s set is so naturalistic that it would certainly please the playwright, as would the lighting design by Pettibone and Scott Wyshynski.
Biographer Mel Gussow wrote that Edward Albee said that “It is survival of the most adaptable” and not the fittest. Change is often scary, and sometimes dangerous. In “Seascape” we observe the two humans and two lizards adapting to a new place in the evolutionary cycle. The play and the production are truly exciting. This is a must-see.
‘Seascape’ runs through May 25, Fridays and Saturdays at 8, Sunday at 2; tickets are $23. For reservations, call 860-350-6863 or visit theatreworks.us.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association, and covers art and culture in a blog for CBS and CBS-CT. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]