Seen on Broadway: Vacationing by the beach, the long-married Nancy (Frances Sternhagen) and Charlie (George Grizzard), getting on in years, fall into one of those intractable arguments that all couples have. Charlie wants to spend his twilight years resting; Nancy, emphatically, wants to live, to explore the world while they still can. They are joined by another, younger couple, Leslie (Frederick Weller), who is rather blunt in his desires, and his quizzical, more inquisitive companion, Sarah (Elizabeth Marvel). Their relationship is evolving—and clearly has a long way to go. Leslie and Sarah, you see, are human-sized lizards, and the mutual curiosity that develops between the two couples is the backbone of Edward Albee’s Seascape, a Pulitzer Prize-winner now in revival from Lincoln Center Theater, at the Booth.
I figured that with the revival of interest in Albee’s work, old and new, Seascape would eventually come in with the tide. Pulitzer aside its original 1975 production doesn’t seem to have been much of a success, winning though it did a Tony Award for its Leslie, Frank Langella, in his Broadway debut (perhaps to his surprise, given its brief run and the shortening of his part when Albee cut out an entire act). The new production, directed by Mark Lamos, strikes, umm, a more delicate balance between the two couples, who are more evenly matched in interest. Old pros Sternhagen and Grizzard are spot-on in their roles, falling effortlessly into their quarrel as if they had been having this argument all their lives, but also displaying the great tenderness that goes hand-in-hand with their bickering (this is the least malicious Albee play I’ve ever seen). Weller and Marvel have of course some tricky business to negotiate, as they spend a good deal of their parts traversing the steeply raked stage on all fours (the movement coordinator was Rick Sordelet), and do so with reptilian gusto. Peculiar as its intersection of cultures may be, Seascape is a funny, touching play with some observant things to say about life in the human and animal worlds, and its revival is welcome.
As you can see from the picture, it is also a marvel of craft. Fresh from his Tony-winning work on The Light in the Piazza, Michael Yeargan has built a beach set so splendidly detailed that audience members should be invited up on stage to wiggle their toes in its sand, or whatever sand substitute is being used. Peter Kaczorowski gradually deepens the sky cyc with subtle reds and pinks as the day at the beach lengthens. Besides the sound of seagulls, Aural Fixation contributes a mighty whoosh as planes fly overhead, adding a note of technological discord to the proceedings. [Showman Fabricators built the set, PRG supplied the lights, and Masque Sound the audio.] The star turn is provided by Catherine Zuber, whose iridescent-colored lizard suits (with lavish tails) are worn as comfortably by the actors as if they were their own skin (Parsons-Meares provided the costumes). This is truly intelligent design.--Robert Cashill
Seen in NYC: The Duke on 42nd Street is a lovely little theatre for dance, and was the perfect place to see in this dream that dogs me by choreographer Karole Armitage and her company, Armitage Gone! Dance. She has been working primarily in Europe for quite some time, but has made a nice splash on her re-entry to the New York dance scene. Not seen in the photo here is an intriguing decor by artist David Salle, who frequently collaborates with Armitage to provide the visual environments for her dancers. This time he set a long silvery, industrial looking pipe along the upstage wall of the stage area, with the wall lit a deep red from lights set along the floor yet hidden from view. Along the stage left side of the stage was a long yellow curtain that contrasted nicely with the silver and red, creating a visual tableau in which the dance was set. The costumes by Peter Speliopoulos were monochromatic with various cuts of leotards and body suits in blue, red, and white. Aaron Copp designed the lighting, using what looks like a rig of primarily ETC Source Fours hung above the entire stage area (which at The Duke is a flat floor). The lighting changes character for the various sections of the work, with the silver pipe responding to the change in color temperature of the light as well, looking brighter and colder at times. The music by Annie Gosfield is played live by four musicians located on a platform above the upstage area, except when the cello player, Felix Fan, joins dancers Meguni Eda for a duet on stage (see photo). The sound design is by Jody Elf. Armitage's choreography is as abstract as Salle's décor, with sharp staccato movement that is in keeping with the modern musical score. The red light along the bottom of the wall is off for most of the evening, but at one point a dancer claps his hands and the lights pop back on, a nice little moment of interaction between the dancers and their light.--Ellen Lampert-Gréaux
Seen In Brooklyn: German choreographer Sasha Waltz brought her 70-minute work, Impromptus, to BAM as part of the annual Next Wave Festival. Her company of fine-tuned dancers performed on a challenging set, with two white, horizontal geometric planes that were raked and angled in various ways, with dancers climbing or tumbling onto the platforms from the stage deck on the upstage side of the larger platform, and at times jumping off the back as well. There is also a large parallelogram of plywood suspended on wires that creates an off-center backdrop for the dancers, and they appear and disappear from behind the wall, and one dancer even gives it a push as it swings back and forth at one point. Designed by Waltz herself and Thomas Schenk, the set is an integral part of the performance, and as Waltz states, “It is a challenge for the dancers to worked on the raked, multi-level set. The set is essential to define the space where we are working and the sense of what we are doing.” Visually, Waltz wants the set to seem “not safe, not secure, not stable, almost disorienting,” as these are the same kind of feelings she communicates in her dancing as well. She also has a sense of humor, which was seen here in a duet where two dancers are wearing high rubber boots filled with water, that squish as they walk across the stage. Later the mood turns more somber as the dancers begin to put powdered paint pigment (red and black) onto their bodies and the stage, using water from the boots to make the pigment into wet paint that runs down the platforms, making a large abstract painting (the set is repainted white after each performance). Waltz sees the paint streaks as “pathways the dancers leave on stage.” Another surprise in the set is a trap that opens upstage to reveal a “bathtub,” where two female dancers bathe in the nude, as if cleansing the paint from their bodies (as a historical note, another German choreographer, Pina Bausch, a longtime favorite in the Next Wave, once had a pool of water for a hippopotamus (actually two dancers in a hippo suit) in just about the same spot on the same stage, at least 20 years ago). Waltz’s work seems to come out of a similar Tanztheatre context as Bausch, but mixed with her roots in contact improvisation. Like Bausch as well there is vocal work in this piece, with Judith Simonis, a red-haired singer in a white gown, adding another layer to the work. Waltz refers to her as a doppelganger, as she originally hoped one of the dancers could sing as well. Impromptus, is performed to music (and songs) by Franz Schubert, played live on piano by Cristina Marton in the orchestra pit set just below stage level. The costumes by Christine Birkle were primarily in blacks, browns, white, and gray, with the clothing ranging from dresses to shorts, bodysuits, bathing attire. The look of the clothes is contemporary, and highlights the bodies while giving them ultimate freedom of movement. The lighting by Martin Hauk at times sculpts the dancers in soft light, and at others bathes the stage in a colder white light, including one unusual looking fixture hanging stage left like a stark white moon. The overall effect is as if Waltz has invited us briefly into her world, to discover what her dancers are doing, and my only complaint is that the 70 minutes are but too brief. The next time, I hope she invites us for a longer visit.--Ellen Lampert-Gréaux