George Grizzard and Frances Sternhagenin Seascape
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
George Grizzard and Frances Sternhagen
in Seascape
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
They're intelligent, well-educated. They're witty, although often at each other's expense. They're white Anglo-Saxon Protestant. They're gregarious -- not to say garrulous and or even querulous. In the words of Oscar Hammerstein II, they're "vaguely discontented." You've guessed it, haven't you? They're an Edward Albee married couple, arriving in many of his knotty, prickly plays under different monikers: Daddy and Mommy in The American Dream, George and Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Tobias and Agnes in A Delicate Balance, Him and Her in Counting the Ways, Martin and Stevie in The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?, and so on. No matter the play, they're also assumed by many to be unflattering versions of Albee's adoptive parents, although this is something that the playwright doesn't necessarily acknowledge.

In the Pultizer Prize-winning Seascape, which is now receiving its first Broadway revival 30 years after the first production, they're called Charlie (George Grizzard) and Nancy (Frances Sternhagen). As Albee couples go, this twosome is less combative than most yet more specifically discontented. While spending a day at the beach, they disagree about whether they should just laze or make the most of their remaining days by exerting themselves. She wants him to relive his boyhood activity of exploring the ocean's depths; he'd rather relax in the dunes and read. (The heaving dunes in this production, which could use some more sand to be absolutely realistic, are by Michael Yeargan). Basically, Charlie and Nancy are so devoted that they admit to remaining completely monogamous throughout their life together.

Their sun-drenched idyll (with subtly shifting lighting design by Peter Kaczorowski) is disturbed not by any devastating argument or the overimbibing of alcohol, but by the sudden appearance of two human-sized lizards, Leslie (Frederick Weller) and Sarah (Elizabeth Marvel). Iridescent in Catherine Zuber's convincing outfits, these refugees from waterworld initially seem menacing but turn out to be the sort of benign pair that's familiar in Albee's canon. No longer feeling at home in their native surroundings, they've headed to dry land for reasons not much different than those which Harry and Edna, the secondary couple in A Delicate Balance, give for abandoning their suburban home to seek shelter with Tobias and Agnes. In their naivete, Leslie and Sarah even resemble the troubled Nick and Honey of Virginia Woolf dropping in on George and Martha during the wee hours. Once again, Albee is presenting two sets of couples more or less used to each other's ways and busily engaged in maintaining the delicate balance that constitutes a successful partnership. ("Yes, Sarah," Leslie meekly says more than once to his other half.)

The conflict this time amounts to whether Charlie and Nancy will not only befriend Leslie and Sarah but will succeed in inuring the nonplussed reptiles to the myriad ambivalent emotions that comfort and afflict humans. As a result of the script's give-and-take, it eventually looks as if Charlie and Nancy, already parents to three children, will take Leslie and Sarah under their care. (Adoption and/or surrogate children are another frequent Albee theme.) While the two lizards with bugged eyes and darting tongues are initially startling, they don't distract for long from the fact that the play is basically an amiable gabfest with little to promote other than everyone's need to reckon with emotion and the daily ups-and-downs of the average meaningful relationship. (It's my contention that the Pulitzer Prize for Seascape, as well as the one Albee received two decades later for Three Tall Women, were attempts by various Pulitzer committees to make up for Virginia Woolf being ignored in 1963.)

Still, with Mark Lamos directing watchfully and movement coordinator Rick Sordelet presumably seeing to lizard behavior, the Seascape actors are delightful. Grizzard, who was the original Nick in Virginia Woolf and who later won a Tony for the revival of A Delicate Balance, is a quintessential Albee player. He's now giving his idea of a Nick-like guy 40 years on: cranky, bemused, and likable. Just casting him means that Albee's requirements are met. The same can be said of Sternhagen, with her little hands fluttering, her feet flat on the sand, and her voice fluting. Weller and Marvel, who have been chameleon-like in previous performances, are wise choices to play lizards. It can't be easy to do what they do on all fours, but they make it look easy.

When I mentioned to a friend that I was off to see Seascape, he remarked, "I don't care if it's got lizards, it's still The Bickersons." (He was referring to the beloved radio and television series about a squabbling couple.) There's quite a bit of truth to that statement. But, as I noted to my chum, The Bickersons was always amusing and perhaps slyly revelatory -- and, even when he's doodling, so is Albee.