Saturday, October 25, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Review: THE SEA PLAYS

By Toby Zinman

Review: THE SEA PLAYS

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By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

Long ago, before Emperor Jones, before  Iceman, before Long Day’s Journey, before the Pulitzer and the Nobel prizes,  before  the work that made Eugene O’Neill the granddaddy of American drama, he was a sad young man, down on his luck, who shipped out as a merchant seaman. That rough, hard-drinking, vagabond life yielded what are known as The Sea Plays and two of them, Bound East for Cardiff and In the Zone are PAC’s Fringe contribution—giving us a chance to see a superb production of these rarely performed one-acts.

And to see them aboard the Tall Ship Gazela! If there were an award for Best Fringe Venue, this show would get it, especially on a clear, moonlit night with the Ben Franklin Bridge providing a beautiful backdrop.

Bound East for Cardiff is about a sailor (the fine John Lopes) who is dying after a bad fall;  his sadness as he looks back at his life is very touching, and he delivers a line that will echo through the O’Neill canon to come: “It must be great to have a home of your own.” His shipmates gather round as his friend (the excellent Brian McCann) grieves.

In In the Zone, a ship carrying ammunition enters the warzone, and the crew is jumpy.  They suspect a shipmate (Brian Ratcliffe) and proceed to invent a story about his treachery; the point here is the tension O’Neill creates as we wait for the reveal, just as we wait in the first play for the death.

The two short plays, seamlessly performed in an hour in the deep wooden bowels of this historic and handsome sailing vessel, are immensely helped by the authenticity of the setting. And, with a cast of excellent actors (outstanding are David Blatt and Keith Conallen) under the inventive direction of Damon Bonetti, this is a theatre experience that is both moving and engrossing.

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PAC (Philadelphia Artists’ Collective) at  The Tall Ship Gazela,  docked$ at Penn's Landing, near Market Street and Columbus Boulevard. Tickets  $15-20. Through Sept.23.

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About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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