In the middle of the night, aspiring writer and erstwhile librarian Ben (Louis Catliff) rescues a naked Tracy (Brianna Chu) from the waters near his beach house on Cape Cod. ‘Seascape with Sharks and Dancer’, a Don Nigro play produced in St Andrews with the support of the Antony Tudor Fund, follows this strange encounter. The plot revolves around the relationship between someone who believes wholeheartedly in the idea of true love, and someone who could not be more sure that it is all one big, cruel, lie. However, in spite of an intriguing premise and a brave attempt by the cast and crew, little could be salvaged from Nigro’s unwieldy script.
The production did well to bring the world of the play to life. The modest set captured the remote idleness of Ben’s beach house. Here, the lightest touches – a simple rug hung on the back of the Barron wall, books and stray papers lying around haphazardly – came together effectively to create the atmosphere of a real, lived-in home. In addition to this, the sound of waves crashing against the nearby shore helped reinforce the quaintness of the setting.
Both Chu and Catliff made good use of that set. Apart from a few clumsy sequences when their characters got into fights in the first and second acts, the blocking was fairly natural. The actors’ frequent movements around the set added energy to their exchanges, and kept the two-person play from becoming too static.
However, in spite of Chu and Catliff’s best efforts, too much was lost to the script. On the one hand Catliff struggled to flesh out a real character from the stub of dialogue that Ben is given – a task he was somewhat able to accomplish only late in the second half. Yet at the same time, Chu’s portrayal of Tracy was overburdened by a never-ending deluge of overly wrought dialogue. She kept rambling on and on – with wave after wave of half-baked metaphors that remained infuriatingly cryptic and ultimately had little impact beyond sounding somewhat pretty.
Furthermore, it seemed that the simple need to get the lines out came in the way of the characters’ emotional arcs. Too much energy was spent in coping with the sheer mass of Nigro’s cumbersome writing, and as a result neither Chu nor Catliff were able to portray any subtle emotional responses to the action onstage. Instead, the changes and developments to their characters occurred abruptly, and it was only in the most intense of scenes where the characters emotions were able to power through the dialogue. As a result, the plot moved forward in uneven jerks and many of the nuances of Ben and Tracy’s relationship were lost.
One cannot help but feel that these problems were only exacerbated by the fact that both directors were acting onstage. Quite simply, a third individual involved could have helped spread the load. Whilst Chu and Catliff could have used their not inconsiderable talent in coping with the dialogue and their challenging characters, a dedicated director could have specifically focused on ensuring that emotional content and the overarching arc of the action was able to shine through.
A talented team made the most of what they could in this performance, and were able to save the briefest flashes of quiet charm and emotional power. However Nigro’s writing drowned out too many of the subtleties and nuances of the play’s characters and their relationship. Ultimately, the merits of the production team were not enough to save ‘Seascape’ from sinking under the script’s foamy surface.