Thursday, November 7, 2013

Seascape with Sharks and Dancer – by Don Nigro

Lane Compton and Ri Versteegh - Photo Agnes Magyar

By Joe Straw

She:  I’ve been by this theatre a million times and never even knew it was here.

He:  I don’t think that’s true.   A million times?  Can you give me something a little closer to the truth?

She:  All right, hundreds of thousands times.

He:  The theatre’s been here 10 years.  Let’s say you’ve driven by twice a day, once going to work and the other going home. Two times 365 days in a year times 10 years that’s 7,300 times.  That’s slightly less than your “million times”.  And, even if you drove by for the next 100 years you still wouldn’t hit the million times mark.  - a discussion of time and space between a man and a woman.

Okay, I driven by this theatre a number of times and I didn’t know it was here.  That’s odd. I look for theatres all the time.

I arrived early (what else is new) walked over to Starbucks on the corner of Bundy, and spoke to an actor, from Atlanta, Georgia, working there.  His accent was the first thing that gave him away, (first rate I might add), keeping it after a number of years away from the south.   He spoke to me about his craft, living in New York, and studying with Al Pacino’s mentor Charlie Laughton. Sadly, I can’t recall his name.

I Think I Can Productions presents: Seascape with Sharks and Dancer written by Don Nigro and directed by Matt Doherty.  It is playing at The Santa Monica Little Theater at 12420 Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles, about a block west of Bundy.

The Santa Monica Little Theater is a very quaint black box theatre, less than 99 seats, with old wooden chairs that are surprisingly comfortable although a bit cramped for my 6-foot-6-inch frame.  

Seascapes With Sharks and Dancer is an interesting and peculiar play.  And the story before the play starts goes something like this.  A young woman, Tracy (Ri Versteegh) is seen late at night, naked and drowning off the coast of Cape Cod near a decrepit beach house.  The resident of the house, Ben (Lane Compton), happens to be walking on the beach, sees her, and saves her from jaws or whatever might be swimming near her.

The play takes place in Ben’s house, which is both decrepit and quaint. The dusty décor has a sixties motif, furnishings that has seen better days, tin buckets scattered across the room (to catch rainwater dripping from the ceiling, perhaps?), old dusty lamps, frames without paintings, books on makeshift shelves, travel alarm clocks, and a fish bowl with one dead goldfish. And Ben, being a writer, has his writing workstation completely covered as though it were a rancid piece of furniture, although he wants to be a writer in the worst possible way.  His homely comforts are provided by his librarian job. And the lighthouse lights the room in circumference through the living room window.  

Ben has nabbed Tracy, completely exposed, saved her from a certain death, and brought her to his place to keep her safe for the night. And it would be foolish to think he didn’t have anything else on his mind. All in all, this – this lonely 29-year-old writer has hit the fantasy jackpot!  But, once he’s got her wrapped and on the couch, things go downhill from there.  

Tracy, is slightly obtuse, unorthodox, mentally unstable, and has a slight speech impediment which, on this night, may be her good attributes.  She has other things on her mind, about her current situation, and lastly she does not want to be raped.

She begins this portion of his wretched life with a polite request for help. 

“SERVICE!  SER-VICE!  HEY!  I WANT SOME SERVICE AROUND HERE!  HEY! HEYYYYYYYYY!” (As she pounds a book on the floor.) - Tracy

Her indebtedness, for his kind acts of chivalry, doesn’t wear on her soul and she does not have a functional thought of gratitude floating around up there. And while she is screaming for service, she is looking for an escape route.  

Meanwhile tender loving Ben is in the kitchen making hot chocolate.

“I want to know why you went off and left me.” – Tracy

“I was making hot chocolate.  I thought you were asleep.” Ben

“I don’t drink in my sleep.” – Tracy

“I wasn’t making it for you.”- Ben

“ I don’t think I like your attitude.” – Tracy

Ben gets hot chocolate for both of them. They sit together, Ben smiling at Tracy and Tracy not understanding what his smiles mean.

Tracy, still uncomfortable, thinks she very perceptive and knows all about Ben and his personality.

“You’re afraid of things.” - Tracy

“What things?” - Ben

“Things. Everything.  You’re afraid of me.  Probably the dark. Cockroaches.” – Tracy

“What gave me away?” – Ben

Ben speaks like the protagonist of a Pat Conroy novel, the wisecrackin’, getting-the-upper-hand-on-everyone type.  But, what is really going on with this character? What does he want? And how is he going about to get it?

Long answer short: He wants her. It’s simple enough. But how does the loneliest man on the planet go about getting her? What does he get from her?  She is terrible person, obnoxious, cold, rude, and someone who has lived most of her young life on the streets (or so it appears). Answer: Ben is a writer and whatever surprising gifts she’ll give him, he’ll take for his craft.

And what does Tracy get from Ben?  For the time being, a home.  She has a place to stay, out of the sea, and off of the streets. She has to get beyond dealing with this wisecracking wussy boy.

“The way your face moved when I told you you were ineffectual.  And the way you sit there and look at me like I was somebody.  If you weren’t afraid of me you wouldn’t have to pay attention, would you?” – Tracy

“Does that make sense.” – Ben

“I can tell chicken when I smell it.” – Tracy.

(Chicken is slang for gay.  Is she calling him gay?)

First meetings make for strange bedfellows.
Director, Matt Doherty, takes his time with the actors.  Tracy, wrapped, appears to have a nice comfortable couch to sleep on.  Ben is in the other room making hot chocolate.  It’s not an opening that says a lot of what these two went through to get to this point.  Then as the play progresses both actors are on opposite sides of the room, in very uncomfortable moments.  Bringing them together, during those times, would highlight the emotional and physical action.  His action in the first act is to get her into his bed.  But, there’s not one action that leads to this event. Ben is all-wussy-book-boy being very polite.  Where does that get him?  An elbow in his groin and a busted nose.  And she is all crazy, and unpredictable, without seeing him once as a sexual being.  Isn’t there room here for physical seduction? (I’d say the shark scene, with so much is going on, has plenty of room for seduction if it were played to him rather than us. And for the purposes of this seduction she is the dancer and he is the shark.) Also, there was one action where Tracy finds a grey handkerchief, takes it and hides it behind her back. Ben eventually takes it from her and puts it away. What was that all about?  His apartment, plus grey handkerchief, equals bondage?  Although, it is very intriguing, this is an action that is not fully explored.  And what about the ring she steals and places on the folds of her covering? A very important moment may have been missed, on this night, when he came in from the kitchen and she still has the ring (with no way to get rid of it.) And one more thing, while we might see this play as her character being extreme in nature, both characters demand to be just as cracked for this to work.  

Ri Versteegh playing Tracy is a stunning actress with an appealing look but, requires additional seasoning to complete this role.  More focus is required for a stronger and creative objective.  Finding the core of character will smooth out the little bumps and that will come in time. Still, Versteegh’s work is fascinating, her smile, and the light in her eyes. Also, light is her friend and staying in the light, rather than moving out into the dark side of the set, will only help. Also, moving closer to her counterpart, so close that their lips are almost touching, closer to feel the fear, and closer to feel the excitement. This is not to take anything away, but to add.

Lane Compton plays Ben and he also has an appealing look.  But really, how polite can you be when you have one thing on your mind. Okay, you can be polite and appealing but is that action getting the girl into bed?  And the bed action, just, sort of, happens.  For the purposes of this play, Ben is the shark and his prey is a few feet in front of him.  He is sizing his prey with all of his sensory faculties waiting to take the first bite. And, on another note, is he really a writer or a wannabe writer? There’s hardly any reaction to her throwing around his books and then the taking his novel and throwing it all over the apartment. Those actions should hit at the core of his character, he should feel it and we should feel it. 

Don Nigro, the writer, has a lot of interesting things in this play. But it’s hard to love a character when she speaks like a truck driver. And it’s hard to love a man when he is being run over by that truck driver.

There are a lot of nice touches in the set, the lighting and the sound, and the member of that crew are as follows.

Savannah Brown – Stage Manager
Sebastian Sheehan Visconti – Sound Designer
Mike Brainard – Design Consultant
Danuta Tomzynski – Design Consultant
Andrew Wilder – Design Consultant
Philip Sokoloff - Publicity

Take someone who is a little bit “this side of wackiness”.  Discovery is such a pleasant thing.  


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