Seascape With Sharks and Dancer is a boy-meets-girl tale for the new millennium. Its moral is as old-fashioned as the redemptive power of love and trust, but no mere cutesy misunderstanding pulls the sweethearts apart before they are cheerily reunited with a smooch before fadeout. In this emotionally stark and ultra-contemporary love story, self-destructiveness and the inability to accept love imperil the relationship.
The characters do not meet cute: Ben (Paul Jones), a lonely aspiring novelist, rescues Tracy (Amy Caitlin Carr) from the sea during an apparent suicide attempt. Back at his house, she's nasty and ungrateful, but clearly her abrasiveness is masking past trauma. By the next morning, they have become lovers-and he has learned how to handle her so she doesn't always outsmart him and can even be conciliatory. She moves in with him, but the course of true love does not run smooth.
Director Nicole Lerario created genuine moments of tenderness and exasperation between the lovers, although the strength of their performances was not immediately obvious. Carr did start out with a bang (literally-the play begins with her pounding a book on the table), but at first she appeared to be trying too hard to make her portrayal of a disturbed woman different from all those that have come before. Jones, on the other hand, underplayed his part in the beginning, but ended up fashioning a soulful and realistic personality that did not disappear in the shadow of Carr's showier role. She, too, settled into her part, so much so that she came off quite naturally alternating between neediness and heartlessness.
These are demanding roles, and not just because they're the only ones in the play. Jones had to convey the sincerity of Ben's affection as well as some backbone so his infatuation did not become pathetic-watch his face as he revels in postcoital bliss and, later, struggles to subdue his distraught girlfriend. Carr, meanwhile, must have a breakdown onstage-much of the wrenching final scene amounts to a monologue by her, and she does part of the rampaging clothed in only a bra and panties. It took a compelling performance like Carr's to keep the audience focused on the dialogue instead of her near nakedness, and it required great concentration by the actress to complete the scene under such conditions.
Boy does get girl at the end of the play, although she's still unstable. Even without a tidy conclusion, Seascape With Sharks and Dancer is a satisfying drama. This relationship, twisted as it is, is credible-the audience can understand why Ben is so devoted and why Tracy's antics persist, and they recognize that Tracy's inability to follow through on her repeated promises to leave belies her bravado. Furthermore, the romantic side of the relationship is revealed in a charming scene that accurately renders the hesitant yet luscious first moments of love.
All other elements of the production were
solid too, from the ocean sounds and mood music (sound designer:
Russ Widdall) to the fully furnished living room (set designer:
Joshua Dunn) and wide assortment of props. A provocative
script in the hands of a worthy cast, director and designers-satisfying
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Copyright 2000 Adrienne Onofri