A CurtainUp Berkshires Review
By Elyse Sommer
But as the changing tide and sky won't stand still for sixty-nine-year old M.J. Adams (Patricia Conolly) to capture it on her canvas, so life's experiences can't be contained within a firmly framed emotional canvas. The same holds true for Holly Dancer (Annie Parisse) who's come to her aunt's beach home to get away from her spinning out of control personal and career life. It is the same for Leo Hart (Jeremy Davidson), the sexy life guard who's recovering from an unhappy love affair but is game to give love another try after one look at Holly.
Having to deal with constant change applies even to the lives of the youngest beach regulars. Eight-year-old Winston Took's (Rider Stanton) fun at the beach can't shut out his mother Ariel's (Jennifer Van Dyck) unhappiness which she's brought to the beach along with blankets and toys. Seven-year-old Miranda Bigelow (Victoria Aline Flower) discovers that her wonderful beach has its imperfections when she steps on a glass shard).
More than anything Coastal Disturbances is a love story, but it too comes with sharp-edged shards. Like all of Howe's work, the play's charm stems from its quirky characters. In this case joie de vie, despair, love, lust, anger and fear come and go like the waves hitting the shore in foamy bursts or gentle ripples. As written by Ms. Howe these emotional weather shifts come in waves of dialogue that refresh and at times come in monologues that might leave less skilled actors gasping for air.
Told as a series of interwoven vignettes that end more as a fadeout than a neatly tied-up beginning, middle and end story, the ten scenes nevertheless allow you get to know all the characters: the senior citizen painter and her retired doctor husband who are still celebrating their togetherness after nine children and some evidently forgiven but not forgotten infidelities. . . the two mid-thirtyish moms and their kids; one thrilled to be miraculously pregnant and joining the little adopted daughter she used to shake "just to hear the biological eggs she was born with rolling about" and her college chum, an embittered divorcee convinced that the battery of her biological clock is shot.
And, of course, there's the eccentric, mixed-up New York photographer (Parisse) and the lifeguard (Davidson) whose good looks make him a magnet for admiration, dislike (from the man-shy Ariel), curiosity (from the old couple) about why a 28-year-old is still in an 18-year-old's job. Leo's drifter life style hardly make him Mr. Right for the ambitious Holly -- but those pecs are sexually irresistible.
Ms. Howe has always been fortunate in the productions given her plays and this Berkshire Theatre Festival revival is no exception. Jeremy Davidson, is an appropriately hunk-y Leo and as BTF regulars anyone who has seen him at BTF know him to be a sterling actor ever since his intern days when he knocked audiences' socks off as the lead in Quills at the Unicorn (Quills--review). He gets beneath the muscular facade of his character and makes Leo a persuasively likeable and sincere guy whose name should include an "e" to go with his personality. He and Annie Parisse, whose work I first admired in off-Broadway premiere of Keith Bunin's Credeux Canvas, (Credeaux Canvas--review) generate sufficient sparks to make the push and pull between their characters credible and fun to watch. Parisse acts a bit like another famous Holly, Audrey Hepburn's Holly Golightly, and looks like a very young Marian Seldes.
With kids known to be notorious scene stealers, having two important roles played by youngsters poses an additional challenge to Davidson, Parisse and the rest of the excellent adult cast. Victoria Aline Flower and Rider Stanton are indeed adorable and terrific young actors. Fortunately they are also seasoned enough performers to understand the ensemble spirit.
Scenic designer Bill Clarke has turned the Festival's Main Stage into a beach scene complete with enough real sand for an at once funny and highly erotic seduction scene in which Leo responds to Holly's fanciful talk about dolphins' erstwhile resemblance to humans by burying her in sand. With an assist from lighting designer Dan Kotlowitz, director Mark Nelson floods the stage not only with midday sun but evokes the romantic aura of early morning. By ending each scene with the actors as moving shadows against an orange sky, the scene-to-scene transitions are strikingly effective visual moments. Laurie Churba's costumes complete the topnotch production values.
What Mr. Nelson can't avoid is the play's problem in sustaining the restless, anything can happen at the ever-shifting seashore mood through the second act. That's when Holly's caution-to-the-winds night with Leo veers abruptly from its impessionistic charm by bringing on a very human coastal disturbance -- the older, sophisticated art gallery dealer Andre Sor (Francois Giroday) who's been the cause of the despair that sent her to her aunt's home.
Like a seagull abandoning one tasty tidbit for a choicer morsel, she turns from Leo who made her happy to Sor who she says "makes me feel alive". Nattily attired in expensive suit and tie, Giroday does his best to create some sympathy for the suave but driven European Jew and not choke on a long biographical monologue. However, the spell Howe has managed to cast over the rest of her beachcombers (and the audience) is broken.
Ultimately, the play gets back on track and we're left to put our own spin on the play's ending. I should make that non-ending, for Howe's basic message seems to be that, as that perfect standstill scene will inevitably elude the artist, so ordinary people can't nail down the best parts of their lives but must move with the tide of life. With that in mind, when you go to see Coastal Disturbances, best to let its flaws wash past you and just relish the memories in the making that the playwright and this fine cast have captured.
LINKS TO OTHER TINA HOWE PLAYS WE'VE REVIEWED: