Coastal Disturbances by Tina Howe, directed by Mark Nelson
Spirit counts for everything in this world...
Jeremy Davidson and Annie Parisse; photo: Kevin Sprague
Like the heroine in her play "Painting Churches" Tina Howe's principal character in "Coastal Disturbances," Holly Dancer, is a portrait artist, a photographer obviously from an upper class family. She is sly, shy, nervous and defensive. She is pert, petite and pretty. Her beach, on which this play is set, is a private beach that she has used for ages and when she cannot find the pass required for entry, a pass that no one asks for or seems to expect, and she gets totally flustered by her own actions, we know all to well who we're dealing with. She is the flip side of her counterpart in the earlier Howe work.
That alone, being the opposite of her forebear, should make her and this play just as interesting. In contrast to the earlier work, this one is a romance, a comedy, a play about a relationship that can only suffer, even at its best moments. He, after all, is not upper crust. He is a temporary lifeguard, a fisherman, former contractor, barely blue-collar guy. Not exactly a match made in heaven, even if he does have a great body, a great jaw, powerful legs and a steadfastness about his pursuit of her that belies his earlier failed relationship.
Into the mix comes the former boyfriend of the heroine. Or is he former after all? The lifeguard may have his fantasy woman - and there's a long monologue about that toward the end of the show - but Holly Dancer clearly has her romantic, handsome, wealthy, married gallery owner.
Howe adds real-type characters including two impossible children. This lends credence to the setting, gives the heroine and the lifeguard something to play against, to contrast with. This is a realistic comedy, after all, and someone has to get something. One child actually get a shard of glass in her foot accompanied by the complaint "how does broken glass get onto OUR beach?"
I'm a romantic and I love a good shot at true love. This play on the subject is never going to be my favorite. Maybe there's something a tad too realistic about it. Maybe there's nothing realistic enough. I don't know. I only know that in spite of really inspired performances I wasn't moved by anything in this play and I really think I should have been. The key to my problem with it may be in the almost too clinical manner in which emotions are covered up by smart remarks: "You're a testament to the transforming eye of the artist," says the lifeguard/fisherman/contractor. Believable? Yes, as a statement of fact, but from him, no. So maybe the problem lies with Howe's comprehension of her hero's role in the heroine's drama. At the end he is practically uttering a Stanley Kowalski/Streetcar Named Desire sort of yelp: a "Steelllllaaaa!" kind of thing downgraded to "Come back. Come Back." But it seems our little Sheba may not respond at all. We don't know.
Annie Parisse is a gamine figure, an Audrey Hepburn clone as the heroine, Holly Dancer. Jeremy Davidson plays the ever-so-manly Leo Hart. They are good together. He is ardent and she is a cold fish, but he is a fisherman and she is a dish. They do have an onstage chemistry which is lovely to watch at work. They not only sizzle, but they sputter and fume as well.
Marcia De Bonis and Jennifer Van Dyck are Holly's old friends who meet every day on the beach along with their children, played nicely by Victoria Aline Flower and Rider Stanton. Van Dyck has moments where she almost steals the show away completely. She is a dynamo enraged and she is very, very good.
As the older folks in the play there are Patricia Connolly and Jack Davidson as the much married Adams Family. Quirky and devilish, they are fun to watch and to hear utter the best lines in the play. Their final scene together, with the lifeguard, is totally charming and should have been a clue as to how the rest of the play could go. Francoise Giroday is the older man in Holly Dancer's life and he is very interesting to observe. His long, long monologue about his father and his surprising ethnic history is difficult and he does the best any actor could do with it. it's easy to understand Her attraction to him, but hard to understand her reactions to him and his needs, especially in light of her own actions and desires.
Jack Davidson, Patricia Connolly, Victoria Aline Flower, Rider Stanton and Jeremy Davidson; photo Kevin Sprague
Francois Giroday; photo: Kevin Sprague
Mark Nelson hasn't solved the problems of the play, he has merely sidestepped them. The choreographic elements are well done and the play has a flow: turgid and turbulent but always moving. Perhaps a stronger hand on his actors' interpretations of their longer solo materials would have helped here. He does very well with the dolphin monologue for his heroine, but othes feel long and flat and out-of-left-field.
Nelson's production is aided a great deal by Bill Clarke's steeply raked beach set, including real sand and Laurie Churba's period costumes - if 1984 is actually a period yet. Scott Killian has provided the proper sort of sound effects and incidental music. Nelson should be pleased with the overall look and feel of his production.
Would I recommend this show? Not if there are better options, but certainly - if this is the best game in town. Right now, for Stockbridge, this is it. Do you miss the ocean and the beach? Go see this play. Need a little romance, a very little? Go see this play. Like things funny and romantic? Look elsewhere. Too much female morbidity can destroy your sense of humor for a while.
◊ 07-15-06 ◊
Coastal Disturbances plays through July 29. Tickets are $37 - $64. Performances are Monday through Saturday evenings at 8PM; matinees on Thursday and Saturday at 2PM. Call the box office at 413-298-5576 or go to www.berkshiretheatre.org.