Lincoln Center Theater
Frances Sternhagen as Nancy
George Grizzard as Charlie
Frederick Weller as Leslie
Elizabeth Marvel as Sarah
222 West 45th Street
Directed by Mark Lamos
Set Design: Michael Yeargan
Costume Design: Catherine Zuber
Lighting Design: Peter Kaczorowski
Sound Design: Aural Fixation
Movement Coordinator: Rick Sordelet
Stage Manager: Michael McGoff
Casting: Daniel Swee
General Press Agent: Philip Rinaldi
Director of Development: Hattie K. Jutagir
Director of Marketing: Linda Mason Ross
General Manager: Adam Siegel
Production Manager: Jeff Hamlin
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
December 4, 2005
As the scene opened onto sweeping sand and blue sky, a very retired and leisurely couple lie on the beach with picnic basket, liquor, napkins, a book, a few throws, not your Hamptons party crowd or Fire Island groupies, but, rather, a very solitary, interdependent, intellectual, and comfortable couple, one, Charlie (George Grizzard), who likes to lie there in retirement, his gift to himself for a lifetime of hassles, and the other, Nancy (Frances Sternhagen), who longs to travel to beaches around the world, not just see one beach, but see exotic, faraway ones. The push and pull of marital togetherness, all the more together in their 70’s, and all the less like Albee.
This concept of “less” seemed to be that of less drama, less darkness, less surprise, and perhaps less depth. Although Nancy and Charles wax on about her fantasies of his affairs, her would-have-been affairs, and his would-have-been-repeated underwater diving (a youthful adventure that he does not dare re-visit), nothing much seems to happen. In fact, ironically, two large green humanoid lizards with the largest tails I’ve ever seen, Leslie (Frederick Weller), and Sarah (Elizabeth Marvel), show up on this same beach and wonder if they should eat Charlie and Nancy or learn to shake hands. Ironically, because the first act encounter shows some interest and action, but the second act, two-couple dialogues, become tedious and lacking in dramatic engagement.
Mr. Weller recently performed in Glengarry Glen Ross, and, in a trench-coat, seemed to exude more charisma than here in an extraordinary lizard costume and makeup, with spikes, tail, hanging skin décor, and large, pointed toes, fingers, and nails. He was endearing, as was Ms. Marvel, as his counterpart and loving “wife”, and, unlike Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, a recently presented Albee play, these two couples did not steal each other’s mate, did not physically attack each other, did not drink too much or say too much or insult too much. This was a civil, sophisticated, and nurturing interchange of strangers on sand.
The evolving lizards were a monogamous couple in their youth, and Nancy and Charlie were a monogamous, evolved couple in older age. In fact, both Nancy and Charlie vow to marital monogamy in the early, first act conversation. A few moments occur, when I am not sure if Leslie will be a loose cannon, especially when the airplanes go by (extra-loud sound effects, thanks to Aural Fixation), and he comes a bit close to Charlie, who taunts him royally, earning some clawing and choking, but not with lethal or even bloody results. Albee’s other plays draw more emotional blood from human interaction than this play draws from giant lizards happening on an older couple on a deserted beach.
Now, the high points. Ms. Sternhagen is an actor’s actor. She performs with zeal and casual grace and clear enunciation and presence and poignancy, not sappy, but salty. Mr. Grizzard is also a master at dialogue, connectedness, and powerful charisma, even when he’s just lying on a blanket and moaning about being bothered. Mr. Weller and Ms. Marvel have incredible choreographic abilities in body language, showcasing Rick Sordelet’s (Movement Coordinator) excellent teachings. They move their long green stomachs (most of their onstage time is on their stomachs, writhing around this sand set) in tune with each other, and move heads and tails in symbiotic style. When Leslie and Sarah stand together, each claw seems to be coordinated and synchronized, and the fact that they have laid thousands of eggs and have thousands of children, while still young, is a testament to their physical closeness.
Mr. Weller, as Leslie, is sometimes too humorous to be a lizard, but Ms. Marvel, as Sarah, seems to have the “warm, faithful, attentive wife” down pat. When Nancy and Charlie try to teach them about monogamy, Sarah and Leslie have already practiced that lesson with no thoughts otherwise. Yet, when Nancy and Charlie teach them to shake hands, there is a lesson to be learned. There’s an innocence in the science of this play, and I kept thinking of its potential, with changes in dialogue, to be appreciated by children, especially given the superb lizard costumes created by Catherine Zuber. Peter Kaczorowski’s luscious lighting changed the sky from afternoon to eve, from sunny to dim. Michael Yeargan’s sand set must have been quite a feat, as the stage brims over with real sand at the edge, but a sand-“like” stage for walking and writhing, without tearing the green costumes or creating dust on human clothing.
It’s not always necessary to be frightened, or sung to, or shocked, or drawn to laugh, when we go to the theatre. Sometimes it’s just nice to be pleasantly surprised or intellectually stimulated. Seascape is a nice afternoon at the theatre and a nice break from glitz and glamour. Frances Sternhagen and George Grizzard are pros in their prime, well worth visiting. They remind us of the quality of simple, spoken dialogue, performed with the expertise of many years onstage in many fine theatres. Kudos to Ms. Sternhagen and to Mr. Grizzard.