Jon Fosse’s Sea is a tricky play to connect with.
Its inhabitants seem at times to be on a boat (“I am the Shipmaster!” one insists, over and over), but it’s clear early on that the setting’s a bit more existential than that. The play’s notes describe the journey as a “modern-day Hades” but purgatory feels like a more apt description. This place isn’t so much a horror as a state of confusion and listlessness.
But maybe Hell is really just an inability to relate to those surrounding you in any meaningful way, which is the case for just about every character in this brief drama. There’s a couple (Eamon Patrick Walsh and Sara Barker) who seem at once intimate and strangers, desperately clinging to each other at first, but destined to drift apart. Another, older, couple (Kim Curtis and Ellie Nicole) seem to find some solace with each other, but are continually confronted with shadows from their past (Is this man their son? This woman their daughter?) and are steadfast in their determination to turn away from them.
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There’s that aforementioned Shipmaster (Buck O’Leary) and a similarly confused guitar player (Greg Onago), the only individual who seems to ultimately find peace with his surroundings.
Sea’s premise, played out in a bare, black-box setting, has a certain evocativeness to it, but the play’s dialogue, clearly meant to have a lyrical air to it, largely comes off as repetitive and stilted. Sea is only an hour long, but it plods along rather than whizzing by.
Another challenge: director Robert McNamara has Barker performing at an intensity that’s several beats higher than the rest of the ensemble, a choice that proves distracting. Of the rest, Walsh is most sympathetic as he mournfully watches his partner gravitate away from him and towards the Pied Piper-esque strumming of the mysterious guitar player.
Sea closes November 24, 2019. Details and tickets
Fosse’s work is beloved by Norwegian audiences but has never really struck gold with English-speaking crowds. It seems unlikely Sea, making its U.S. premiere with Scena, will prove the exception.
Sea by Jon Fosse. Translated by May-Brit Akerholt. Directed by Robert McNamara. With Buck O’Leary, Greg Ongao, Eamon Patrick Walsh, Sara Barker, Kim Curtis, and Ellie Nicoll. Sound Design: Denise Rose. Lighting Design: Jonathan Alexander. Set Design: Michael C. Stepowany. Costume Designer: Mel Chen. Stage Manager: Mavonte Johnson. Assistant Director: Anne Cottage. Produced by Scena Theatre . Reviewed by Missy Frederick.