A Satire of Love, Life and Talking Lizards


Ellen McLaughlin and James Carpenter face a talking lizard in Edward Albee’s Seascape (Photo from ACT webfiles)

Edward Albee is far and away my favorite playwright, so when ACT announced  Seascape I knew we had to go.  It was the right thing to do.

This play is directed by Pam McKinnon, the ACT Artistic Director and a veteran of 11 prior productions of Albee plays.  She was a long time friend of the author and is ultimately qualified to bring this production to life.  It is a total coincidence that Gail and I saw the first Albee play she produced, The Play about the Baby,  because we were in Philadelphia and casting about for something to do one night 17 years ago.

The set is a seashore with dunes, extending over the edge of the stage, but there is no backdrop.  You can see the back of the building, and all the lights in the flys.  There is no illusion that this is anything but a theatrical production.

Set on the shore, Seascape tells the story of a long-married couple, John and Nancy.  They are involved in a discussion of what to do with the remainder of their lives–Nancy wants to travel and spend life on beaches everywhere.  John wants to do nothing at all.

The colloquy extends to their history, the 7-month depression John once had and Nancy thinking, for a week during that time, that she wanted to divorce him.  Phlegmatic John is upset at this decades-old news, not being able to see past his own boring steadiness.

Then the lizards enter.

Great big honking lizards. Walking on two feet talking lizards. Green scaled, horned, taloned lizards.

Meet Sarah and Leslie, (Sarah Nina Hayon and Seann Gallagher) lizards who have emerged from the sea.  They know nothing about humans.  Humans know nothing about them.  It’s time to get acquainted.

They begin with fear: John and Nancy adopt strange poses of submission lest they get killed and eaten.  Leslie approaches, smells and pokes at them, but does no harm.  Slowly, a conversation begins.  The concept of the handshake takes some time to convey, but it breaks the ice.

Then a discussion about bodies and reproduction. Sarah lays eggs all the time and has no concern for the outcome. She can’t imagine having only one child, or caring for it.  Because she needn’t feed her young, she has no breasts and is fascinated with Nancy’s, who shows hers to Sarah. When Leslie wants to see them too, John gets jealous and possessive, emotions that confuse the sea creatures.

Leslie and Sarah don’t know how to talk about their emotions: they don’t even know what emotions are. John and Nancy, who know very well what emotions are, (not that they can discuss them well), endeavor to teach their reptilian visitors.

Asking Sarah what she would do if Leslie disappeared causes her to cry, the first real emotion she has ever had or shown. And now Leslie is the one to get possessive and angry, assaulting John because he made Leslie cry.

This is Albee: nobody lives happily ever after, but they are somewhat enlightened, they have reached a new understanding of their lives and relationships, and perhaps the audience does too.

I loved it.  Gail loved it.  You will too, if you can open your mind to talking lizards.




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