At CBC Studio 700 until April 20, 2013
Tickets at www.shifttheatre.ca or at the door
Posted April 13, 2013
“Creep”. “Moron”. “Drip”. “Eunuch”. Why does Ben, after rescuing a naked, delusional woman out of the surf in the middle of the night, put up with her abuse? He carries her into his Cape Cod seaside cottage, wraps her in a warm blanket, makes her some cocoa and she responds by verbally trashing him and giving him a bloody nose.
And here’s the kicker/spoiler: later that night, after telling him not to touch her and accusing him of planning to rape her, she waits until he goes to bed – utterly worn out by the sparring – and then she runs into the bedroom and climbs into bed with him. And they have sex. Whoa. Run the Male Fantasy flag up the pole.
Written by American playwright Don Nigro in 1974, Seascape With Sharks and Dancer divides the audience into two distinct camps: those who find library worker/would-be novelist Ben (Blake Cuthbertson) a saintly humanitarian who sees something beautiful in emotionally screwed-up Tracy (Morgana Wyllie) and those who see him as a doormat, a guy who, by his own admission, says, “Suffering is good for me.”
Either way, this is tough viewing. Tracy is like a child who never outgrew The Terrible Twos; she doesn’t want a sandwich, then she does. Won’t tell Ben her name and then does. Wants him to tell her a story and then says it’s “stupid.”
The hour and fifteen minute course of the play covers what might be a couple of months in Ben and Tracy’s life together. Oh, yes. He has put up with her this long despite, by now, being called, “a dirty goat-fucker” and worse.
Directed by Nick Sartore for SHIFT Theatre, this is an excellent production of a difficult play. Did I like it? No. Did I admire it? Yes. Set designer Jeffrey Tittiger keeps it clean and simple with just the studs of Ben’s living area, a couch, desk, typewriter and bookcase. (Door slamming on opening night gave us a bit of a scare as it looked like the doorframe might collapse.) We imagine a kitchen stage left and a bedroom stage right.
It can’t be easy portraying Ben and Tracy. There must be times when Cuthbertson feels like either decking Wyllie or laughing at the garbage coming out of her mouth. “Gold-plated shit on a stick”? But Ben’s patient, gentle character shines through – at least until we begin to suspect that he is as wrecked and dysfunctional as she is. While Nigro’s tale is hard to believe, Cuthbertson’s Ben is solid. (Cuthbertson, with his shirt off, caused audience member Aman to remark he had never seen a writer so well built. Most writers ‘work out’ over a keyboard not at the gym, I guess.)
Wyllie has it tough. She starts at an abrasive level and escalates from there with just a couple of cracks in Tracy’s armour. It must be emotionally draining to go through this night after night; those are real tears at the end and, although I was constantly irritated by Tracy’s character (and that’s in the writing, not in the performance), there was eventually a brief breakthrough near the end.
Nigro acknowledges Samuel Beckett’s influence and this is never more apparent than in the conclusion that echoes Waiting for Godot: “I’m going. I am.”
A successful night at the theatre is one when the audience lingers and argues until the ushers kick you out. Seascape With Sharks and Dancer is a play that definitely does this. Is Ben, as LA Theatre Reviewer Joel Elkins asked, “exhibiting low self esteem by putting up with her abuse or amazing maturity at seeing through it?” Has life been so harsh for Tracy that we should wrap her in our arms and rock her to sleep? I, for one, am not that nice.