A scene from The Sea
(© Jennifer Maufrais)
A scene from The Sea
(© Jennifer Maufrais)
Anyone familiar with the work of Edward Bond realizes the British dramatist doesn't mind making things tough for audiences. For example, his best-known work, Saved, contains the harrowing sequence in which a handful of disaffected young men stone a baby in its carriage. What's less recognized in Bond's plays is that he can also be tough on directors.

Take The Sea, the 1973 Bond play now being revived by The Actors Company Theatre (TACT). The challenge that this mercurial work poses for a director is finding the exact tone. Is The Sea a comedy? Bond thought so, but he also stirred in generous elements of romance and nostalgia. Unfortunately, director Scott Alan Evans doesn't locate the balance needed to make Bond's mix a smooth blend. As a result, the production too often leaves the patrons unsure how to react. At times, you can almost hear ticket buyers thinking, "Should I be laughing now?"

The initial problem is that Bond starts his play with a storm at sea, an overturned boat and a drowning -- not unlike the dramatic circumstances of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes. But in the next scenes, the playful Bond abruptly switches directions and heads for chuckles. The time is 1907 and the setting is a village on England's east coast where Willy Carson (Allen E. Read) has survived the boat accident -- unlike his now-deceased friend Colin. This situation leaves him uncertain about how to deal with Louise Rafi (Delphi Harrington), who rules what there is of the town's society and whose niece, Rose Jones (Ruth Eglsaer), was the dead man's fiancé.

Colin's demise affects the locals, particularly Hatch (Greg McFadden), who decides that Colin's death is irrefutable proof that extraterrestrial aliens have encroached -- and whose cutting of fabric in his drapery shop is a symbol of the impending ripping of pre-Great War societal fabric. Nonetheless, life goes on. That includes the potentially uproarious rehearsal for Mrs. Rafi's production of Orpheus and Eurydice in which she insists on singing "There's No Place Like Home." The scene is intended to be amusing, as is the one at the cliff's edge during Colin's ash-scattering ceremony, but neither is anywhere near giggly enough.

Where Evans does succeed is in establishing the look of the production. Set designer Narelle Sissons has provided several cupboards on wheels that, rolled here and there, continually reconfigure the playing area. Opened from time to time, they reveal various objects -- portraits, books, glove racks -- that further establish locales. It's a clever idea. Joseph Trapanese's music, which is played as the troupe rearranges the pieces, neatly fixes the mood, while David Toser's costumes -- particularly a couple of hilarious ladies' hats -- and the lighting design by Mary Louise Geiger and Lucrezia Briceno are also beneficial contributions.

The cast mostly fares quite well. Harrington adopts the absolutely right imperious attitude for Mrs. Rafi. The innocent-faced Read and the stunning Eglsaer are appealingly incipient lovers and handily make the most of a tender beach interlude. Both McFadden and Jamie Bennett, as Hatch's doltish sidekick Hollarcut, reap some well-earned yuks, while Gregory Salata is properly sagacious as the alcoholic Evans. Where the cast is inconsistent is with their accents, although Bennett's mush-mouthed enunciations are a howl.

Writing recently about Bond, the playwright Mark Ravenhill said what he admired in the man who has strongly influenced his own iconoclastic pieces was "there's never that little wink to say 'don't worry, I'm really just doing this for fun.'" As it happens, The Sea may not need an author's wink, but it definitely requires a directorial wink -- and Evans simply doesn't seem to have a firm wink in his repertoire.