Did you make it to the beach this summer? Did you see the lizard people?
If the answer to either of those questions is no, it’s not too late. Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Seascape features both and they can be seen onstage at the Alley Theatre’s Neuhaus Theatre in Houston for the next few weeks. I saw the lizard people and I’m here to tell about it.
Edward Albee won not 1, not 2, but 3 Pulitzer Prizes for drama in his life. The first was for his 1967 play A Delicate Balance. The third was for his 1994 production of Three Tall Women. His second Pulitzer was for Seascape, which debuted in 1975 during Albee’s middle period, when his works often explored the psychology of maturing relationships.
For Edward Albee’s Seascape, the Neuhaus Theatre stage was transformed into a giant sandbox. The play features one location and two acts. It’s directed by Nathan Winkelstein. The first act introduces the audience to Charlie and Nancy, a married couple facing retirement and a possible crossroads in their relationship. They want different things. Nancy is ready to live and Charlie is ready to rest. Even their approach to the beach is different. After enjoying a nice picnic, Charlie wants to do little more than relax in the sun. He’s content to just be. Nancy wants more, she wants to explore. She wants to travel from beach to beach and she wants Charlie to jump in the water and see how far under he can go, like he did years before. He’s just not interested in that. She complains, he makes his rebuttals, and the two carry on like some married folks do.
The dialogue is laced with equal amounts of “Albeesian” humor and existentialism and the long passages are handled with skill by veteran actors Philip Goodwin (Charlie) and Franchelle Stewart Dorn (Nancy). Just when the couples’ bickering starts to grow tiring, the lizards show up and stir things up. Two of them, life-sized, played by humans in magnificent costumes. This is when things start to get interesting and the first act ends, leaving you ready for the next.
The second act of the play features the lizard duo, Leslie and Sarah, expertly brought to life by Zachary Fine and Raven Justine Troup. Decked out in gorgeous face paint and heavy-duty lizard suits, they convincingly crawl through the sand on all fours while interacting with Charlie and Nancy. Leslie and Sarah are just as curious as their human counterparts and they have just as many questions to ask (and as many insights to provide). Anybody expecting this play to go the way of Jurassic Park should check the title. It’s Edward Albee’s Seascape, not Steven Spielberg’s, and instead of a vicious face-off with nature, things are more like the scene from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World when Scott meets Nega Scott and they end up being pals and bro-ing it up. Well, not exactly, but close enough. The lizards and the humans can communicate (turns out lizard’s speak English!) and their interactions are entertaining and mostly friendly. Mostly. Zachary Fine’s lizard Leslie has a short fuse and his sudden outbursts when he doesn’t understand something are hilarious. He was a crowd favorite. With no set changes and a dialogue-heavy script, Seascape is an actor’s showcase and everybody holds their own. None of the 4-person ensemble belong to Alley Theatre’s resident acting company.
Overall, I enjoyed the play, even though it left me scratching my head a little. It was funny and it was interesting (and I really like those lizard costumes) but it didn’t exactly come together for me. What was Albee getting at? What was the point of it all? How does the second act relate to the first? There were a lot of complex themes at play and some obvious parallels to draw, but I still felt like I missed something. Reading about it after helped, but it also gave me the notion that Albee can be like that, a little complex and hard to peg. I think it just comes with the territory. The material is intended to plant seeds and instigate thought and that it did.
So, go to the beach. See the lizard people. Enjoy the show. Take what you can from the experience and don’t stress the rest. And as an added bonus, when you find yourself in the twilight of your life, face to face with a couple of giant talking lizards (and that day will come), you’ll know exactly what to do because you saw Edward Albee’s Seascape.
Onstage now through November 13th. Tickets available here.
About the Alley Theatre:
The Alley Theatre, one of America’s leading nonprofit theatres, is a nationally recognized performing arts company led by Artistic Director Rob Melrose and Managing Director Dean R. Gladden. The Alley produces at least 16 plays each year in its newly renovated Theatre, ranging from the best current work, to re-invigorated classic plays, to new plays by contemporary writers. The Alley is home to a Resident Acting Company. In addition, the Alley engages theatre artists of every discipline – actors, designers, composers, playwrights – who work on individual productions throughout each season as visiting artists. The 2015 renovation of the Alley’s Hubbard Theatre created a new 774-seat state-of-the-art performance venue. Matched with the newly rebuilt 296-seat Neuhaus Theatre, the Alley offers nearly 500 performances each season. The Alley Theatre reaches over 200,000 people each year through its performance and education programs. Its audience enrichment programs include pre-show and post-performance talks, events, and workshops for audience members of all ages.
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