American Century Theater SeascapeBy McCall Doyle • Aug 8th, 2009 • Category: Reviews
The American Century Theater
Thomas Jefferson Community Theater, Arlington, VA
Playing through August 22nd
Reviewed August 5th, 2009
Edward Albee’s Seascape has been given a summery and delicious production at The American Century Theatre. Under the intelligent and refreshingly detailed guidance of director Steven Scott Mazzola, Albee’s sometimes difficult and stylized language and vigorously humorous play comes to life. His choreography is sinuous and lively and the space is used incredibly well. When you enter the black box theatre, you are instantly transported to the shore with the dock, the ocean, and the sandy beach, not to mention the plaintive sound of the gulls.
You either are an Albee heroine or you are not. Annie Houston is most definitely an Albee heroine. She switches easily from the dramatic, poetic monologues to the natural (and funny) lines with ease…and does all with an inner energy and animation that makes her utterly believable and charming. Craig Miller‘s Charlie is amiably disgruntled, and terrific. Both are convincing as a long married couple…comfortable with each other but not completely without mystery. Nancy is girlish and lusty and ready to experience life in a new and different way. Charlie feels that he’s already lived and the rest of it is better spent playing it safe, basking in the memories of the way things were. They peel back the layers of each other in a revealing manner, and one cannot help but need to know how they fare.
As the lizards, Brian Crane (Leslie) and Mundy Spears (Sarah) are tremendous. Clearly they have studied the actual movement of these creatures…they nail the body language and habits with blinking eyes and stealthy crawls with great success. Crane shows a belligerent and yet strangely vulnerable side as Leslie, intelligent and wise yet very young and insecure about the things that he does not know. Spears is a marvel with her reptilian expressions, oddly appropriate vocalizations, and emotional range. She’s a sassy and creepily flirtatious Sarah. The strong bond between the two is touching.
The parallels between the two couples, despite their obvious differences, are wonderful. Albee is at his absolute best when he writes about the human (no pun intended) relationships…and it shines here.
Especially moving was the motherly, nurturing rapport between Houston & Spears…and the veritable territorial war between Miller & Leslie is hilarious. There is a wonderful highlight during an exchange about defining love…and the interest and desperate need to enlighten is tangible.
The detail of the set (Hannah J. Crowell), the lights (Andrew F. Griffin), the sound (Matt Otto), the costumes (Melanie Clark)…all of these things have come together to make a delightful production. The audience was enthralled, drawn completely into the fun, fear, ignorance and wonder that can occur when something foreign this way comes.
Artistic Director’s Notes
Seascape marks a critical point in the career of Edward Albee–the point at which most successful playwrights choose a path dictated by finances and creative realities. Albee chose a different one.
The American Century Theater focus most of its attention on the very best American playwrights, yet even these suffer from a fate that seems very grafted to the commercial creative career: they can’t escape their own successes. Once a playwright has a well-received play, there are overwhelming pressures to stay close to the themes and style that have brought fame, riches, and favor. Tennessee Williams found himself returning repeatedly to the travails of lonely Southern spinsters. Arthur Miller explored similar moral dilemmas in different settings. Many playwrights staged brief rebellions: Philip Barry, hailed for his comedies, tried periodically to sneak a drama past the critics, who would have none of it. Both Miller and Williams attempted light-hearted fare that had audiences telling them to go back to what they did best. Usually, that’s what the great writers end up doing. It’s safer, and it’s easier on both their bank accounts and their reputations.
Still, they make this compromise at a price. Researchers on the mysteries of the human brain have learned that human creativity comes from foraging new neural pathways. When an artist uses the same neural pathway over and over, it becomes exhausted, like a mine’s vein of a precious metal that gets depleted. After that, nothing really new or interesting comes out. A few artists have both the courage and the depth of talent to abandon the old pathways that have been successful before they reach this point, go searching for new ones, and find them. The Beatles. Steve Martin. Philip Roth. Among playwrights, it is a very short list, almost beginning and ending with Eugene O’Neill. But Edward Albee also belongs on this list–and has the scars to prove it.
Seascape is called the second of Albee’s Pulitzer prize-winning plays, but it was really the third. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, by acclamation his masterpiece, was selected by the Pulitzer Prize drama panel for the 1963 prize, but the stodgy Pulitzer Committee vetoed the choice on the grounds that the play did not represent “a wholesome view of American life.” They awarded no drama prize that year, half of the drama jurors resigned in protest. Albee had to wait until 1967 for his first officially sanctioned Pulitzer — for A Delicate Balance. Between these two domestic emotional – disembowelment plays, Albee bad been trying out new neural pathways like mad: the book for a musical comedy, Breakfast at Tiffany’s; a dense intellectual allegory, Tiny Alice; experimental one-acts. The musical closed before it got to Broadway, the allegory was roundly hated by critics. And the experimental one-acts were, well, experimental one-acts, the kind of thing that established playwrights were supposed to leave behind with their one room garrets and their pile of rejection slips. So with another Broadway hit and a second celebrated play from the original mother lode, what did Edward Albee do?
He went back to looking for a new vein. Seven years later, after several more failed digs, he found himself back at the original mine in a previously unexplored shaft that still had riches: Seascape — another set of unsettled couples, but with a bold twist. Albee was again on top. Most playwrights –- indeed every other one -– would have accepted the apparent message. Not Edward Albee. He closed the old mine, strapped on his gear, grabbed his pickaxe, and went looking again. A Pirandello-style drama, The Lady From Dubuque. No. Another musical, Lolita. Failure. The Man with Three Arms, in which a man who has been celebrated for a unique deformity harangued by audiences for not caring about him once his extra arm fell off. By this point, critics had concluded that Albee simply had lost his talent, if not his mind. Finally seven flops and sixteen years after Seascape, Albee found his new vein with Three Tall Women, a Broadway smash in 1990 and his fourth Pulitzer Prize. Seascape had not been the beginning of the end for Albee, as every critic was saying in the 80’s, but the end of the beginning.
-Jack Marshall, Artistic Director
- Nancy: Annie Houston
- Charlie: Craig Miller
- Leslie: Brian Crane
- Sarah: Mundy Spears
- Director: Steven Scott Mazzola
- Stage Manager: Zachary W. Ford
- Producer: Karen Currie
- Set Design: Hannah J. Crowell
- Lighting Design: Andrew F. Griffin
- Sound Design: Matt Otto
- Costume Design: Melanie Clark
- Properties Design: Suzanne Maloney
- Makeup: Lynn Sharp-Spears
- Technical Director: Norman Lee, IV
- Scenic Artist: Meaghan Toohey
- Board Operators: Michael Clark, Christine Millette
- Electrics: Michael Clark
- Set Construction: Norman Lee, IV
- Costume Construction: Jennifer Tardiff, Kingsley Gbadegesin
- Production Intern: Brendan Haley
- Marketing and Publicity: Yvonne Hudson, Jennifer Adams
- Program Design and Cover Art: Michael Sherman
- Production Photography: Micah Hutz
- Display and Design Intern: Lana Hasou
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/4078.