SEASCAPE WITH SHARKS AND DANCERS
at the Project
When I was 13, 1 used to fantasize that a beautiful girl would appear out of nowhere and she and I would fall hopelessly in love, despite the fact that I wasn't the kind of guy she usually went for. Sometimes there'd be a twist--the woman would have some problem or unresolved conflict that I would heroically help her to overcome, and thus I'd really earn her love.
Don Nigro's Seascape With Sharks and Dancers is very much in the spirit of such adolescent male fantasies. A pathetically passive and lonely man--Ben calls himself a writer, but he rarely writes and really makes his living as a librarian--saves a strange woman, Tracy, from drowning and then proceeds to save her again and again throughout the play--from her past, from her misconceptions about life, and from her own fears. Eventually this Christlike man earns her grudging trust and love, which we are somehow supposed to take as a happy ending.
Of course any man who falls for a psychologically scarred, hysterical extrovert fresh from a nasty, masochistic relationship with a drug dealer (he left her) cannot be all that psychologically sound himself. But Nigro never really gets into that aspect of the relationship.
I don't think it's asking too much for a writer to examine the neurosis at the root of his fantasy. Nigro seems to think the great question of his play is: "Can a hysteric from New York find happiness with a neurotic loner living in Cape Cod?" But the real question is: "What on earth do these two get out of this sick relationship?" When they aren't shouting at each other or misunderstanding each other, they play weird, cruel little mind games. Naturally, as a woman trapped in a man's fantasy, Tracy is best at this mind fucking. One never knows, from one line to the next, what Tracy really wants or what she's really talking about. What does she mean, for example, when she says she's afraid of all the "sharks" in the world, or claims to have been "dancing" in the ocean, not drowning? Is she suicidal or psychotic or just silly? Or is she poetic and only a little screwed up?
Amazingly, Nigro workshopped this play off and on for ten years--the Samuel French edition lists five separate productions of the play, culminating in its 1984 "premiere" at the Oregon Shakespearean Festival. So Nigro certainly had time to think it over, and even, one would have hoped, to outgrow any residual young man's fantasies. Yet his play remains pathologically adolescent, especially in the way it confuses illness with well-being, and sick relationships with healthy ones.
Director John Braun seems unconscious of the fact that this is not your average romantic comedy about a couple of eccentric but essentially likable young people--this despite the fact that Gabrielle Young's able handling of Tracy only accentuates her character's sickest, most mentally ill side. In marked contrast, Rick Reardon's Ben seems numbed and oblivious to all but the most bizarre behavior from Tracy.
"Never sleep with anyone more neurotic than you are," my college roommate once glibly advised me. Both characters in this play could have benefited from his advice. Not only would they have been happier, so would those of us in the audience who had to suffer through this nonsense.