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Arts and Entertainment

Edward Albee's Funny But Imbalanced 'Seascape' Hasn't Evolved

Kristin Wiegand, Paul Gunning, Alan Schack and Arden Teresa Lewis in 'Seascape.' (Photo: Thomas Mikusz)
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It’s fair to say that when Edward Albee won a Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for his play Seascape, it was considered topical, intellectual and engaging. It’s also fair to say that it hasn’t aged well, and now seems quaint, a relic of its era. That being said, the current production at Theatre West emphasizes the play’s strengths and isn’t overwhelmed by its flaws. Director Charlie Mount gets vivid and amusing work from his quartet of actors, who admirably commit to the philosophical whimsy.

An older married couple on vacation relaxes on a rocky sand dune near a beach, discussing what they want to do with their lives after retirement. Nancy (Arden Teresa Lewis), voluble and easily led into enthusiasm, wants to travel endlessly from beach to beach. Charlie (Alan Schack) wants to do nothing and rest. This worries Nancy, and the two begin to argue, which is when a pair of humanoid lizards emerge from the ocean. It turns out that Leslie (Paul Gunning) and Sarah (Kristin Wiegand) are friendly and speak English. The two couples exchange information about life underwater and on land, until the question arises: will Leslie and Sarah decide to evolve?

Schack exudes a deadpan wit as Charlie, but the role as written unconvincingly changes emotions at the drop of a hat, and these unsupported bursts of anger or weeping strain credibility. Lewis is credible and likeable as the open-hearted Nancy, and she brings comic energy to a show that needs it. Gunning excels as the somewhat pompous Leslie, and he gets all the reptilian mannerisms just right. Wiegand is charming as Sarah, reveling in her delight at the new world.

Mount stages the show effectively, using the slithering and preening of the lizards to create visual interest. The humor in Albee’s play still works, from Leslie’s contempt for some of his undersea brethren (“Fish are stupid.”) to Sarah and Nancy’s comparisons of mothering techniques. The main problem with Seascape is that it is structurally imbalanced. The bulk of the value is contained within Act 2, so much so that it seems the playwright had a good one-act and then decided to pad it out. The preceding act spins its wheels building up a great deal of possible marital drama that is only glancingly referred to in the concluding act. Jeff G. Rack’s dune set, complete with multiple large boulders and a bright blue backdrop sky, adds measurably to the quality of the production. Who knew that beige carpet would work so well representing sand?

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Seascape is playing at Theatre West through Oct. 16, 2011. Tickets are available online.