Harriet Harris and Dashiell Eaves in Not Waving
(© T Charles Erickson)
Harriet Harris and Dashiell Eaves in Not Waving
(© T Charles Erickson)
Ellen Melaver's subtly crafted play Not Waving, now premiering at the Williamstown Theatre Festival's Nikos Stage, sneaks up on you like a wispy cloud on a perfect beach day. All seems calm and well, and before you know it, a storm is brewing. (The title derives from a Stevie Smith poem, "Not Waving But Drowning.")

The beach where three disparate twosomes circle the shore, looking for the perfect place to plant themselves, is remarkably real -- or as close as set designer David Korins could get. (And had he been able to add surf, you get the sense he would have.) "It's all sand. Just pick some sand," carps a tart-tongued young woman (Maria Dizzia) to the man accompanying her (Nate Corddry). They'll be airing relationship issues, you can safely bet -- some comic, some distinctly not so.

And what of the pair of teenagers (Will Rogers and Sarah Steele) who gambol on goofily? Surely there can be no heavy baggage between them, even if he does twit her for lugging an overstuffed tote. She likes to be prepared, but she's not for the news he'll ultimately divulge (after arduously sculpting the ultimate fantasy skatepark in the sand). Meanwhile, the friction between the mother-son duo (Harriet Harris and Dashiell Eaves) is right out in the open. He grills her about the SPF number of her sunscreen ("The pink one," she answers airily) but vigorously defends his right not to have to "itemize" his breakfast for her: "I'm thirty-two."

Each spate of dialogue skitters forward a bit, like lapping waves advancing the tide. There's very little interaction among the three groupings, but so much going on within each that harmonic resonances start to build. And given the rich material and director Carolyn Cantor's surehanded guidance, it's no surprise that all the actors are superb. Still, it's the maternal bond that commands center stage. Harris does a lovely job as a seeming surface-skimmer whose ditsy nonchalance shields deep concern for her rigid, aloof offspring, who describes himself proudly as "blissless" and "unyearning."

While Not Waving is a short play -- scarcely surpassing an hour -- it smartly respects its own parameters: the amazing revelations and breakthroughs that can occur during one presumably peaceful afternoon on the beach.