One of the perks of attending a good performance of a good play is this: you leave the theater with this warm feeling that you have gotten to know some real people — you have had enough of a glimpse into their character that you feel that you know “what makes them tick.” This was very much the case with our experience of Moonlight Stage Company’s production of Don Nigro’s Seascape with Sharks and Dancer.
The play’s title could easily be the title of a picture (a painting or of an “artsy” photograph), and director Estes Tarver does a good job of delivering this detailed, well-developed portrait of these two characters in Moonlight Stage Company’s relaxed, intimate setting.
At curtain, it is four in the morning; and Tracy (Shea Wixson) is waking up on the couch in Ben’s (Sean McCracken) beach bungalow. How did she get there? According to him, she had been drowning; and he had rescued her. But she seems to think that he “abducted” her; she says she was not drowning — she was dancing with the sharks. And that’s just the beginning of their banter.
Tracy repeatedly says to Ben such things as “Don’t touch me,” “Don’t rape me,” “Don’t apologize to me,” “Don’t contradict me,” …. Of course, the entire time, we are plainly aware that Ben has no intention of causing her any harm whatsoever. Curiously, it is through her seemingly nonsensical protests and unreasonable demands that we, along with Ben, find ourselves becoming endeared to her. But what kind of relationship can grow from this?
The play does not pretend to be any kind of philosophical meditation. The enrichment that it offers is more of an emotional than an intellectual type. Indeed, the deepest questions that it asks outright are: “Does working in a library make you a librarian?” and “Just because you write, does that mean you are a writer?” However, watch for some Echoes-of-Eden suggestions when an apple joins these two on the stage. And don’t be surprised if you begin a bit of “probing the depths” at that point. And pay close attention to Ben’s literary references.
Okay, I’ll spoil it just a little: a certain whaling ship (straight out of Herman Melville) is mentioned at one point. (In retrospect, it would have been cute if Ben had shared his name with Tracy by saying “Call me Ben.”)
Anyway: Sean McCracken plays Ben as a patient, benevolent type. He is truly concerned with Tracy’s well-being. At the same time, he is often bewildered by her zaniness.
The intimate, in-your-lap venue at Moonlight Stage affords McCracken the opportunity to make every miniscule change in posture, every cut-of-the-eyes, every mini-shudder visible and meaningful to the audience. And he takes full advantage.
Naturally, this immediacy affords plenty of comic potential (and McCracken delivers). In addition, we began to feel that we knew Ben so well that we felt we could anticipate his reactions and even predict his movements on the stage.
We used the word “zany” above when referring to Tracy. Shea Wixson, however, never sends her character over the top. Even when Tracy is acting most unreasonable, Wixson makes sure that we know there is more to the story, something meaningful behind her words and actions. And no matter how worldly Tracy makes her story sound, there is an underlying innocence to this character that Wixson projects at all times. Furthermore, once we have grown accustomed to Tracy’s style and have begun to understand her past, she becomes just as familiar to us as Ben.
Sean McCracken and Shea Wixson have created a strong chemistry between Ben and Tracy , and we found this chemistry extending to us as audience members. Both characters became increasingly sympathetic to us as the play progressed.
The set is a simple living room in an inexpensive beach house — nothing fancy but quite realistic. Costumes also are simply what we would expect this pair to own and to wear; the program credits Jeris Donovan Livengood for “costume assistance.” We do want to mention that a few “correct” choices were made concerning Ben’s pajamas, but we will say no more.
There was a very interesting choice made concerning props. Prominently displayed on Ben’s coffee table is a Complete Works of Shakespeare, but the bookshelf is populated primarily with editions of CliffsNotes and the like. If the script calls for that, kudos to (playwright) Don Nigro. If not, (director) Estes Tarver gets the “attaboy.”
Moonlight Stage Company presents SEASCAPE WITH SHARKS AND DANCER at 8 p.m. Sept. 23, 2 p.m. Sept. 24, 8 p.m. Sept. 28-30, and 2 p.m. Oct. 1 at 1304 Paddock Dr., Raleigh, North Carolina 27609.
BOX OFFICE (bottom of page): http://www.moonlightstageco.com/events/seascape-sharks-dancer-play-don-nigro/.
Seascape with Sharks and Dancer (1974 UMass and 1984 Oregon Shakespearean Festival play): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/3841/seascape-with-sharks-and-dancer (Samuel French, Inc.) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seascape_with_Sharks_and_Dancer (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Don Nigro (Malvern, OH-born playwright and screenwriter): http://www.samuelfrench.com/author/2375/don-nigro (Samuel French, Inc.), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/8929 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0631514/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Nigro (Wikipedia).
Estes Tarver (director and founder and creative director of Moonlight Stage Company): http://www.moonlightstageco.com/about/ (Moonlight Stage Company bio) and https://www.facebook.com/etarver111 (Facebook page).
Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.