Out of their depth

Seascape With Sharks and Dancer

By Don Nigro
Directed by Blain Hicklin
Brother Wolf, Sister Fish Productions
ATA Beckmann Theatre
314 W. 54th Street, 2nd fl. (712-6568)
Equity showcase (closes Nov. 19)
Review by Doug DeVita

Is there such a thing as a completely functional relationship between a man and a woman? Or between any human being, for that matter? The two protagonists in Don Nigro's moodily provocative Seascape With Sharks and Dancer are so dysfunctional that their relationship seems almost inevitable, indeed almost normal. Which if nothing else gives hope, at least, for the rest of us.

Ben is a writer who leads a solitary existence in a decrepit beach house on Cape Cod. Tracy comes reluctantly into his life when he saves her from drowning herself. For whatever reasons, Tracy can't accept unconditional love, Ben can't help loving her despite everything she does to push him away. As their relationship develops, Tracy behaves ever more heinously as she constantly tests Ben's devotion, which only grows deeper with every hurtful act on Tracy's part. Obviously, these are two very damaged people whose need for each other borders on the psychotic. Or does it?

Writing with corrosive elegance, Nigro finds both the humor and the pain in the human condition as he strips down to the inescapable truth as he sees it: being an essentially misanthropic race, our relationships by their very nature are bound to be dysfunctional at best, totally destructive at worst. But no matter how sick and twisted the relationship, we hold on because being alone is an infinitely worse state of being.

Blain Hicklin's emotionally raw production for Brother Wolf, Sister Fish Productions made for heartbreaking entertainment, succeeding despite a less than stellar performance from Miranda Herbert as the volatile Tracy. It's not that she was bad, far from it.

She worked very hard, and she captured her character's less than likable traits with ease. But she wasn't able to display the vulnerability, uncertainty, or fear that would make Tracy so understandably attractive to Ben, and make their relationship compelling to an audience. And that was a pity, because Alan Steele's Ben was a marvelously shaded, richly textured and beautifully realized portrait of loneliness, need and painfully acute self-awareness.

The uncredited set, consisting of various mismatched pieces of old furniture, gave the impression of a ratty beach cottage, especially as lighted by Mike Garden with a sinister, murky glow that was edgily appropriate. The costumes, also uncredited, were basic, but the music, by Drunk Stuntmen, was not. In fact, Drunk Stuntmen's contribution went a long way toward providing an unsettling atmosphere that supported and enhanced Nigro's text.

If this production of Seascape With Sharks and Dancer was not as powerful as it could have been, it was still a jolting experience that benefited from smart direction and at least one superb performance. It's only that if both performers had been equally matched, Nigro's script would have burned even hotter than it did, and the production would have been an unqualified, jaw-dropping success instead of a slightly flawed diamond in the rough.

[Editor's note: This is the second production of Seascape... in as many weeks. For a review of that production, see Volume Seven, # 11. And a peek ahead at next week's listings shows another one coming up!]

Box Score:

Writing: 2

Directing: 2

Acting: 2

Set: 1

Costumes: 1

Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2000 Doug DeVita