June 25, 2008
By the Sea, By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea a shore thing at Plays and Players
Theater: Plays and Players
Show: By the Sea, By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea
Opened: June 20, 2008
Seen: June 23, 2008
Submitted: June 25, 2008
Reviewer: Amy Lewis
For local audiences, the Jersey Shore holds many memories and associations of the summers of their lives. Whether it is merely the place of childhood vacations or where one escapes from the daily grind, it is impossible to think of the shore without conjuring up some significant ideas in the process. By the Sea, By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea, a collection of three one-act plays, uses the same physical location to unfold three dramatic stories with the very different emotional landscapes.
The three pieces, entitled "Dawn", "Day" and "Dusk" tackle issues of familial relations, justice, power and sexual longing. Plays and Players very cleverly brings the audience into the action by literally putting them onstage as it unfolds. The result is an intimate setting that draws one in and breaks "the fourth wall" to create an engrossing world. Soon the initial shock of being asked to sit two feet from the actors wears off and the audience finds themselves lost in the lives of the characters.
By the Sea, By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea is a successful combination of great scripts, excellent acting and clever direction. The three plays, written by Joe Pintauro, Lanford Wilson and Terrence McNally are intriguing and thought-provoking. As the viewer is asked to figure out the relationships between the characters, in addition to the history each brings to the stage, there is never a dull or wasted moment of dialogue, as each word is a valuable clue. The plays also challenge preconceptions one might hold of various characters because of the "type" of person they are, making them multi-faceted and engrossing individuals.
By the Sea, By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea is also a rare treat for its actors - the opportunity to demonstrate their range and versatility - and the cast takes the opportunity and runs with it; all three players are superb and slip seamlessly from one character to the next. Angela Carolfi is excellent as heartbroken Veronica, sexually manipulative and intelligent Macy and vulnerable and downtrodden Dana. A very smart actress, Carolfi fleshes her characters out, giving each a dose of innocence or cunning that might not automatically come to mind when first reading the plays. The result is that three different, multi-dimensional women are created, demanding the audience to look past their first impressions and discover the rich characters that lie beneath.
Bill Egan is also a powerful force on stage. Imposing and thorny as Quentin, a bitter and emotionally confused lawyer, Egan switches gears smoothly twice more as Ace, an honorable and loyal laborer and Willy, a sexually liberated and charismatic beach lover. Egan's agile acting makes him immensely appealing, as the viewer finds themselves either compelled to "figure him out" or root for him as an endearing protagonist. Never pandering to the simplistic embodiments of his characters that he could have easily chosen, Egan broadens the scope of his roles, keeping them exciting and immensely watchable.
Rounding out the talented trio is Janine White, who also creates three dynamic and fascinating personae. She excels as both Pat, an uppity yet flawed wife and the sexually desperate and lonesome Marsha. However, it is as the coarse and troubled yet superbly intelligent Bill that White really shines. White's performance is so rich and committed that the audience finds themselves wishing the second piece were longer so they could learn more about her. Always likeable but never perfect, White's characterizations are the stuff of great theatre.
The cast is intelligently directed by Peggy Connolly, who elicits fantastic performances and maintains a driving pace throughout the piece. She is ably aided by the inspired work of Lance Moore, who creates a physical and emotional environment that is palpable. His set manages to create the atmosphere of the beach by tapping into its most essential elements. Moore does not concern himself with painting a fake sky or sunshine, but instead, hones in on the sounds and the feel of the beach that stay with one long after they've packed up to go home. Without reading the titles of the plays, the audience knows exactly which time of day it is and can almost feel the heat of the sun or the cool night air. It's one of those unique theatrical experiences that reminds one of the beauty of smaller playhouses.
By the Sea, By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea is an excellent summer treat. Giving life what the local vernacular lovingly and simply calls "the shore", the production gives pause to those who might take its awesome powers for granted. By the Sea, By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea reminds one that the shore is more than simply the place where ice cream is eaten and sand castles are built; it is also where lives unfold. Hurry up and see it before the tide comes in.