Mar '04[Home]

Other Arts: Theatre

Lost At Sea

a review by Paul Camillus

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Sea Of Tranquility, Howard Korder's new play, opened at the Atlantic Theater Company on February 25th. Mr. Korder has previously earned an Obie, the Heidemann Award from Louisville's Humana Festival, and a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize. Martin Scorcese produced a film version of his play, Search and Destroy.

Sea is funny, witty and disturbing. Various spiritually lost, white people (Is that politically correct?) have immigrated to the modern Mecca that is New Mexico, bringing an arkload of issues along. Everyone's here to get laid-back and natural, basking in the sun of this warm Eden, where the ethnic and cultural sins of the fathers can be soothed away.

Ben, a transplanted New Yorker, is a psychologist/counselor doing yeoman work for the emotionally needy denizens of this new southwestern world. He is played by Dylan Baker—solid in this pivotal role. Patricia Kalember is also quite good as Nessa, Ben's second wife, who is mysteriously afflicted with an evolving rash.

There are problems galore—affairs, allegations of affairs, misdeeds and misgivings. Also, Ben and Nessa's enigmatic, hip-adobe house, which springs a few surprises of its own. Could it be the cause of Nessa's ailment?

The ever-brilliant Santo Loquasto's revolving set is deceptively simple and feeds the play. His big, blue-purple sky, far upstage, looks like it goes on forever. Given these wide-open spaces, it seems to say, all things are possible. But sadly, not for these lost souls, whose broad skies belie stifling vistas of their own design. A sea of tranquility—actually one of the smooth, dark surfaces of the moon—is the place of peace and serenity, the sea change they are all in quest of.

Todd Weeks as Randy, a TV producer and the hyper, visiting brother-in-law of Dylan Baker's Ben, is a standout. We perk up whenever he hits the stage, usually raging about something or other. Once, he interrupts a scene like an actor who has missed his cue, excuses himself and exits. It's a hilarious comic effect. When Ben tells Randy, in the midst of one of his ongoing rants, to shut up we are actually too busy chuckling to laugh at Ben's annoyance with Randy's windy harangue.

Matthew Saldivar doubles as Gilbert, a fiercely quiet convict, and his opposite cop of a brother. ("The other child turns out to be somebody you'd just love to burn," sang Sly and the Family Stone.) Gilbert—a murder-one lifer—delivers, head-to-head with Ben, the most riveting scenes of the play, by turns brutal and highly amusing.

The motto of all this seems to be: Does anybody know anything? Certainly not Ben, hell-bent on saving the downtrodden and maladjusted. Ben says something late in the play to the effect that 'you don't solve life, it solves you.' It's the seminal opinion of the play. And it resonates.

But at its core this is not a moving production. Is it Dylan Baker's proficient but aloof portrayal of a man seeking personal redemption? Or does the play load up too much against him, keeping us at arm's length? I don't have an answer. I saw the play before its official opening and perhaps they have modified this impediment. I hope so.

On the whole, this is a worthwhile and enjoyable, intellectually stimulating evening with some quality actors. Director Neil Pepe keeps the whole thing moving, so there's no dead air. As soon as you start to relax, the plays bops you with a good comic bit or emotional brickbat. Under Pepe's astute management, the cast meshes well in tight comic timing, sometimes talking over each other effectively. There are a few too many topical references for my taste (Britney, UPN etc.), but maybe that's just me.

I especially liked David Yazbek's original music between scenes, which struck a strong, dissonant chord in keeping with the evening's activities. Davis Weiner's lighting design was subtle and effective, also informing us clearly whether it's a scene change or an act break.

Sea Of Tranquility, at Atlantic Theater Company, 336 W. 20th. Running time: 2 hrs. and 10 mins., including one intermission.