Sea Marks by Gardner McKay. Directed by Daniela Varon.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"...the true man inside the man..."
Kristen Wold & Walton Wilson; photo: Kevin Sprague
In the mid-1970's young, up-and-coming Broadway actors Veronica Castang and George Hearn played star-crossed lovers in Liverpool in the play "Sea Marks" written by TVís "Adventures in Paradise" star Gardner McKay. They also filmed the play. After that if filtered its ways into the regional theater arena and now itís here in our backyards in The Berkshires adorning the Shakespeare and Company season. To rediscover it now, after so many years - and to have so completely forgotten the play after so much time, is to sit down to a simple dinner and come away with a feast.
The richness in this two-character play is based in the cultures of the men of Aran and the women of Wales. On Cliffhorn Heads, an island in the west of Ireland, every man knows every other man and woman. After generations of intermarriage they must all be related, but the men of this island seldom leave it, rarely bring anyone from outside into their world. Colm Primrose is typical. He has known few off-islanders. Then he meets Timothea Stiles, a Welsh woman who has left her heritage far behind her to forge a life and a lifestyle of her own. Colm is fascinated, but she canít recall having met him during her visit to Cliffhorn Heads. A correspondence between them changes all that.
When they finally meet in her apartment in Liverpool, England, there are sparks, then flares and then the flame of exuberant sensuality. His words become her mission and her acceptance becomes his. Like twin comets they collide and in that collision is the play.
Kristin Wold is sensational as Timothea. She brings intensity into the relationship without every sacrificing the womanly delights of Timothea. Wold is delicate in her constant pushing of her new friend and partner and when delicacy no longer works, she exercises the alternatives. There is a sense that her punch could pack a wallop. Wold knows how to modulate, from scene to scene, the aggressive and passive aspects of her character. She pulls punches and punches for effect. She seems to have her own emotions in check as she manipulates the relationship, but now and then the woman inside the actress intrudes on the character with what appears to be her own personality, although I may be entirely wrong in this and it just may be that director Daniela Varon has called both the minor and the major chords in Woldís performance.
Matching her performance and at times exceeding it for subtlety is the Colm of Walton Wilson. Just as Diane Prusha amazed me making an indelible impression a few years back in "Enchanted April" so Wilson in this role steps forward out of the shadow of secondary roles, nicely played, into the brilliant light of masterful interpretation. Colm in Wilsonís hands is a man who feels the intensity of daylight, the deep chill of moonlight on a cloudy night. He doesnít merely write a letter, no Wilsonís Colm composes a tone poem, a prose poem, a transcription of the elemental beauty of the universe in a few words. While the play is forcing this issue, the performance is making it practical. Wilson gives us a grounded reality that is inescapable. Here is a man able to bring a simple scene of mourning and disappointment to the highest level of extreme emotions without being sloppy, or silly, or supercilious. He brings the edgiest reactions into his interpretation. A limited man, in Wilsonís hands, becomes a man without limitations.
Kiki Smith has created a perfect set, although one that requires a lot of a-vista adjustments and costumes that help define their wearers. Stephen Ballís wonderful lighting adds a level of realism that isnít otherwise available in this modern fairy tale.
Varon has kept close watch on her actors, it seems, pulling away layers of artifice to reveal what can only be seen as real. The end-result is a play that wonít slip away, this second time, one that will remain in the memory. Oddly, the performance I saw didnít get the usual, ugly and ordinary standing ovation that has come to mean so little. Instead it received what it deserved, an ovation as obeisance. Brilliance strikes us just that way.
Sea Marks plays in repertory through September 4 at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre at Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, MA located at 70 Kemble Street. For information, schedules and tickets call the box office at 413-637-3353.