FACING FEARS How, exactly, do we move forward? Photo: MEGHANN BEAUCHAMP
Nancy and Charlie (Kate Braun and Peter Josephson) have made it to the other side: Their kids are raised, released into the world, and producing their own offspring. Life for Nancy and Charlie can finally be a day at the beach — even, if they so choose, a whole string of far-flung beaches. Or can it? As the two vacation on the seashore, fussy, near-curmudgeon Charlie seems distressingly averse to trying anything new in the couple's retirement, and Nancy fears they'll both be stuck in the mud. This couple needs to evolve. And who better than a pair of talking Darwinian lizards, who have just crawled up out of the ocean, to be their catalysts? Enter the reptilian mates Leslie and Sarah (Shaun Crapo and Liz Krane), the larger-than-life devices of Edward Albee's 1974 Seascape. It is on stage in a sharp and gorgeously costumed production by the New Hampshire Theatre Project in Portsmouth, under the excellent direction of Blair Hundertmark.
As the human and lizard couples rise above their initial mutual fear, they have much to explain, question, and debate: Why do we shake hands to greet? Why differentiate between arms and legs? Why doesn't Charlie want the lizards seeing Nancy's "secondary sex organs"? Like many Albee plays, Seascape concerns itself with relationships, stasis, and change, but its tone is strikingly whimsical, and even affectionate. While Charlie and Leslie are each at first hostile toward the other, the play has none of the caustic vitriol of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or the biting grimness of The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?. In this comedy, Albee uses daubs of Absurdism and fanciful, light-hearted humor to deal with serious themes, including monogamy, difference, and bigotry (the lizards have very strong feelings about fish), and an organism's creeping, gradual dissatisfaction with its way of life.
The ingenuous lizards who spur all the philosophizing are, in NHTP's production, assuredly worth the trip to Portsmouth. Costume designer Michele Macadaeg has sheathed Crapo and Krane head to toe in shimmering fabric of primordial-mud-green and gold; given them dark, elongated claws; and painted their faces iridescent green with stripes. And then there are the tails. Dappled, ample, and nearly as long as the actors they're attached to, the lizards' tails round off a reptilian likeness that is disarmingly mesmerizing. The actors move brilliantly in these skins; their physical characterizations include blinks, quick tilts of head, and plenty of lizardly scurrying and basking. I particularly liked Krane's slender, supple Sarah stretching out luxuriously, nose-to-tail, on a long log of driftwood; and the two mates nuzzling heads in reconciliation over Leslie's wary hostility toward the humans.
As for those representatives of our own species, Braun and Josephson are merrily and affectingly recognizable as two halves of an aging marriage. Braun's marvelously elfin and empathetic Nancy, in warm orange beach clothes and auburn hair cut short, has retained her youth and mischief. Her eyes are quick to flit, widen, and gaze openly, her mouth to smile and tease. Balding Charlie in gray print and flip-up shades is crankier and, in Josephson's deft hands, stiffer. Josephson does fine work navigating his moments of gradual loosening, as he confronts memories or emotions head-on. Particularly poignant is his monologue recalling how, as a child, he used to love letting himself sink to the ocean floor and remain there, just one inert object among many, as long as he could hold his breath.