Dallas — Four couples, mostly related by genes or marriage, have come to a New England beach where they seek “time in the sun,” hopefully to heal their shrunken, wintry psyches, devolved from tightly compromised lives growing up in well-to-do old families.
Ten minutes into WingSpan Theatre Company’s production of Edward Albee’s Finding the Sun, a 1985 one-act directed by Susan Sargeant, we are intimately acquainted with eight characters, chatting about everything from philosophy in the tropics to the necessity of regular facelifts, from giddy Oedipal urges to adolescent suicide rates. They console and berate each other, wax ironic about their hopes, and turn to us, the audience, to admit their deepest fears. Heady stuff.
We instantly know more about such characters than many lifelong acquaintances because of Albee’s amazing way of loading a lifetime of fury, anguish or longing into a line, and because of director Sargeant’s practiced skill in staging Albee’s blend of absurdism and American realistic drama. Albee, and his Irish mentor Samuel Beckett, are Sargeant’s cup of tea, and this production is fully steeped in her expertise. Her cast also proves adept in communicating the poignancy of Albee’s well-brought-up and uptight characters, often buoyed only by a knife-sharp wit, a bleak clown standing in for the love they crave.
Large beach umbrellas set the arena stage at the Bath House Cultural Center.
Among the sun seekers are two attractive young men (Ian Mead Moore and Matthew Stepanic), yearning ex-lovers, set at opposite ends of the playing space, and contending with their restless, skimpy-suit-clad wives (Catherine D. DuBord and Robin Clayton, respectively). Both wives are seethingly aware of their husbands’ smoldering history. In one corner, a smartly attired white-haired couple (Ethyl Stephens and Jerry Crow) sets up camp in comfy deck chairs, each a parent—through divorce, remarriage, and social connections—of one pair of sexually misaligned couples. Stage front is a weary, over-tanned divorcee (Charlotte Akin) and her bright, gregarious teenage son (David Helms).
Sargeant conducts the rapid, nuanced dialogue, fraught with equal amount of angst and irony, like a carefully arranged score. Characters shift partners, interact in counterpoint, and sometimes turn imploringly to the audience to put their case. Everybody stays in time, but some performances in this short piece are outstanding.
What would seem a lecture in aging in other hands is a touching admission of what has been lost to time in Crow’s delivery of the illnesses and defeats that beset a man in his 70s, manning up and marking off the losses like a slash though a grocery list of life’s disappointments.
Watching a talented actress like DuBord mature from floating in the shallows of roles that mainly require a pretty ingénue to the deeper waters of a burned and spurned wife is one of the rewards of watching repertory theaters in our city. Here, she brings her combination of reckless abandon and childish vulnerability to create a powerful heated female heart in Albee’s cool dissection of the general defeat of love as a solution to anything. In the show’s trademark Albee scene, she confronts us head-on with her hopeless dilemma of loving a gay man. Her body trembles as if from a chill, and then recovers power to refute her mother’s warning, “Mark my words,” as they are reechoed by the elegant woman stage left (an elegant, fulsome Stephens), who is both her mother and step-mother-in-law. DuBord would make a terrifying Electra!
Did I say Albee dramatizes the tragi-comic in the incestual realms of power? Well, he does. Sargeant and her well-chosen cast startle us with the specter of death on a sunny beach, and the suddenness of endings.
For more Albee, check in with Wingspan Theatre, where the season is devoted to the work of the Pulitzer Prize-winner who died last year. The group’s fall production is the area premiere of his late work Occupant, about artist Louise Nevelson.
Finding the Sun continues in the following blocks:
- 5 p.m. Saturday, July 29
- 5 p.m. Sunday, July 30
- 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 4
Read our interview with director Susan Sargeant here
See more info about the 2017 Festival of Independent Theatres schedule here.