Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Also see Carla's recent review of Calendar Girls
All the quintessential Albee ingredients are here. There is the married couple confronting the challenges of reality in their lives, and there is the intrusion of a second couple to create the quartet for which Albee writes so fluently, such as in his best-known play, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which premiered a decade earlier.
Two couples–one human, one sea creature–meet on a beach, sparking conversations about life and what it means to be human in what has been called a "laugh-out-loud love story, told by way of an unusual marriage counseling session." The play is an insightful look at evolution and naturalism with unbeatable messages about communication and understanding, evolution and progress, and alienation.
The New Mexico Actor's Lab has mounted a sound and compelling production of the play. They have used the 100-seat black box in a proscenium style with a cyclorama of bright blue meeting a sandy beach picnic scene. The sand has been sculpted with rocks and drift wood to create multiple playing levels. Sound is used to further create the atmosphere with seagulls now and then and even loud jet planes roaring overhead. The beach is symbolic, where land meets the sea, and is a place of transition.
Charlie and Nancy, the humans, are picnicking by the ocean and sparring about the goals of their almost retired lives. What adventures should they plan? Nancy is open to nearly anything; Charlie wants to stay put and have peace and quiet. There is a tension between them. Out of the sea, Leslie and Sarah, a couple of middle-aged giant lizards emerge.
After initial fearful encounters and even violence between the two males, the two couples begin to share their lives, their differences, and their similarities. Their conversation is a quirky and clever examination of evolution. Both couples are in transition; both want something–to move on, to evolve.
All four actors bring many strengths to their roles. Robert Nott and Leslie Harrell Dillen, as Charlie and Nancy, must carry the play alone for the first act. (NMAL's production is presented without intermission.) They handle the comic dialogue well, but miss some of the more poignant moments. They do establish a palpable sense of waiting for something.
When Leslie and Sarah arrive, the action really picks up. There is animal energy here, primal forces at work. The lizards slither and jump and bring much energy to the stage. Hania Stocker and Emily Rankin are outstanding as Leslie and Sarah, especially in their physicalization as lizards. Both move well and are very convincing as these creatures.
Stocker and Rankin are assisted dramatically by the lizard costumes, designed and custom fitted by costume designer Talia Pura. Too often small theaters give much less attention to costumes; this is not the case here. These are magnificent and better than the original production, which I saw years ago. Kudos to Ms. Pura.
The second act passes much more quickly and ends almost abruptly with a happy ending, unusual for an Albee play.
Edward Albee is one of the leading American playwrights of the twentieth century. He has won the Pulitzer Prize three times. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf caused a seminal moment in modern theatre with its use of crude vernacular language. Mr. Albee died at 88 in 2016. His plays are revived more frequently. The New Mexico Actors Lab brings such recent classics back to life again and does so professionally.
Seascape runs through September 24, 2023, at the New Mexico Actors Lab, 1213 Parkway Dr. (down the hill from Meow Wolf), Santa Fe NM. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Admission: Individuals $35, previews and students: $15, season tickets $165 (five plays), VIP season membership $250. For tickets and information, please call 505-395-6576 or visit www.nmactorslab.com.
Director: Nicholas Ballas