BTG’s “Seascape” Offers a Compelling View
STOCKBRIDGE – You enter the treasured Unicorn Theatre and descend the steep incline of stairs a short distance to your seat, and there is a beach vista opened up in front of you. Pale blue sky on the cyc, and an open picnic basket on a blanket laid out in front of those short-legged beach chairs that bring your legs in contact with the hot sand. The sand is everywhere and varied in color and texture in front of you. There’s a structural amphitheater to this dune with playing areas on the two small hills that define its edges. At its height, there is delicate grass which you could imagine swaying in the breeze if there were one. It could be a diorama for a permanent exhibition at the finest museum, but it is the astonishing set by Randall Parsons (lit by Matthew E. Adelson) for “Edward Albee’s Seascape”, now playing through 10/23, directed by Eric Hill, and presented by Berkshire Theatre Group.
The beach is our arena as Albee sets his combatants, here named Charlie and Nancy, at each other after a relaxing lunch and afternoon painting (her easel set up to take us in). Charlie is perfectly satisfied, he says, and wants to do nothing. Nancy wants to follow the sun and take in this view from every shore that touches the oceans. There is a lot of talk about the land and sea, and the play is interrupted occasionally by increasingly loud airplanes (excellent musical compositions and sound design by Scott Killian) to which Charlie responds “They’ll crash into the dunes one day. I don’t know what good they do.”
The just-past-middle-aged couple have squabbled, challenged each other with competing visions of their future, tested the wound of infidelity and brought up their mortality when they are joined by a younger couple, Leslie and Sarah who shock, challenge and unnerve them in ways that they could not have prepared for. Leslie and Sarah are lizards.
Now, things start to heat up! First, Leslie and Charlie must square off and measure their sticks for dominance, then Leslie will sniff up and down while Charlie and Nancy lay on their backs, legs up displaying their submission.
“Seascape,” the 1975 Pulitzer Prize Winner turns into a delicious comedy of evolving or devolving species and who has the other hand. In the midst of climate crisis, in a week when our coast lines have been battered and we see daily evidence of the ridiculousness of our species, the play could not be timelier. Certainly, if Albee were writing today, the play would be a one-act and might end 15 minutes sooner but the central premise is as fresh as the ocean breeze.
Eric Hill and BTG have mined the Albee canon over the past decade, and they do this author very well, indeed. The blinkered domestic stoicism awakened by primal fears and desires as evidenced in previous productions of “At Home at the Zoo (The Zoo Story)” and “The Goat or Who is Sylvia?”, which both featured the superlative David Adkins, who plays Charlie here, alongside his real-life wife Corinna May. Adkins goes from contentment to aggrieved arousal hysterically. His happy discovery that Leslie is a bigot is very funny. May offers a questing adventurousness which starts with her vague dissatisfaction with their stalled marriage and ends with her baring her breasts to the animals against Charlie’s wishes.
The lizards, played by Kate Goble and Tim Jones, assisted by the movement director Isadora Wolfe and astonishing costumes by Elivia Bovenzi Blitz, are terrifically otherworldly. Kate Goble’s Sarah is beautiful in green, and it sounds ridiculous, but it makes her eyes shine like diamonds. Jones makes full use of his long, muscular body but has fantastic moments in his sharp dialogue, hard set watchful eyes, and keen stage filling presence. You can’t stop watching him.
Eric Hill and company have delivered a sterling production of “Edward Albee’s Seascape” which explores American shortcomings and brings us face to face with our primordial self, daring us to show our teeth and submit.
Through 10/23, Berkshire Theatre Group @ Unicorn Theatre
Tickets: www.BerkshireTheatreGroup.org or 413-997-4444