Ocean Sea | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Ocean Sea, at National Pastime Theater. This adaptation of Alessandro Barrico's symbol-laden novel takes off only in the second act, after more than an hour of unbearable faux naivete. The work's central conceit--people gather at a seaside hotel run by children to grapple with their lives--inspires adapter-directors Patrizia Acerra and Dawn Arnold to put adult women in plaits and have them run around wearing inane smiles. Worse, their arty approach destroys any connection between the troubled characters and the audience. A supremely light touch is needed for metaphors like "Life is the sea"--and this show has the delicacy of a sledgehammer. The actors, including Arnold herself and several of her students, are so physically self-conscious that the text seems secondary to gratuitous displays of their movement skills.

Then Michael Denini walks onstage, and with him what the play has been missing: a conflict. Denini is superb as a man tortured by his violent past, and Arthur Simone equally good as his antagonist. Both use their bodies and voices transparently, transporting the audience to the scene they're describing--obviously the effect intended throughout. Unfortunately when they face off on a lifeboat, the ensemble's heaving and rolling portrayal of the vessel looks false and ludicrous. But at least something is at stake in this scene. Perhaps if the adapters cut back to their story and worked from there, minimizing the children and the static self-revelation, they'd have something.

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