Star crossed lovers have been the subject of every art form from time immemorial. That this gem of a play doesn’t once feel cliché is a testament to its unfussy plot, glorious language , deftly calibrated direction, and terrific acting. It’s so naturalistic, it has a pulse. Recommended.
The lanky, tousle haired Colm (Patrick Fitzgerald) is and always has been a fisherman. An inhabitant of Cliffhorn Heads Island (Ireland), he visits Galway once a year, but never ventures further. The sky and sea are a part of his breath and bone. “Each morning by the way the sea looks, I know how to feel…” Colm is a bachelor. His family is a village in which everyone he knows has been born, The MacAfee, his fishing partner and surrogate father. Contentedly sewing a repair in his wool cap, the character draws us in with low key musing.
Two winters ago at a local wedding, Colm’s eye fixed on Timothea (Xanthe Ebrick), a guest who works as a book editor in Liverpool. The pair had only one shy conversation, yet he’s been unable to shed the impression. With no thought to time, geography or outcome, he deferentially writes to her. “I hope you don’t think I’m trying to court you, but…” Timothea doesn’t remember Colm, but her life is also lonely and there’s something poetic about the way he describes what she perceives as his simple life. We see and hear them correspond as “sincerely yours,” evolves to “truly yours” and is then prefaced by “dear.”
At Colm’s encouragement, Timothea returns for another wedding, but can only stay overnight; she isn’t entitled to a vacation until spring. Face to face, the pair is tender and careful with words. She dances around an invitation that he visit her. “Where would I stay?” “With me.” His eyebrows shoot up.
Their first evening in Liverpool we learn Colm’s reaction was not that of a Catholic, but that of a virgin – at 45. Timothea is patient and warm. She is divorced, but hasn’t known many men. The scenario is plainspoken, convincing, sensitive. Beneath her apparent conventionality and his inexperience lay wellsprings of passion. Both are astonished and grateful – not gushy. Expressions of emotion in daily life become arpeggios of joyful physicality.
Timothea has secretly shown Colm’s letters to her boss. Excited by an authentic voice – imagine Dylan Thomas with half the adjectives and little alliteration, he publishes them as a volume called Sea Sonnets. At first shocked, its author warms to the idea. “I would’ve called it Sea Marks, those lines that the highest reach of the tide leave on the land to remind you that it’ll be back.” There will be money and possibly celebrity Timothea tells him excitedly; “Now you belong here with me.” I’m sure your intuition is going off like an alarm, as did mine.
Xanthe Elbrick embodies her character without a flicker of affectation. We believe initial reticence, observe peaked curiosity, and understand the attraction. Despite what’s written as even temperament, the actress’s performance is nuanced. In bed, while her lover sleeps, she conjures clear images of a meaningful past. Plans are palpably exuberant. Intelligence is clear, intimacy empathetic.
Patrick Fitzgerald is simply wonderful as Colm. His sure focus and lilting brogue captivate without insistence. Honesty is believable. Awkward admission of his character’s virginity reveals quiet determination and pride. Hoisting Timothea when rapt or drunk, Fitzgerald seems like a young stallion let run. Struggle with the situation is deeply internal, yet visible. And oh, his skill with language! An ostensibly spontaneous lectern speech towards the end of the piece is breathtaking with raw power.
Director Ciarin O’Reilly exercises adroit skill personifying two characters who are so credible, we take the sympathetic journey without sense of time or consciousness of the theater. The play is well staged from juxtaposition of letter writing to first sexual congress; from gradual domestic ease to inebriated celebration. What could be mere poetry becomes personal and intimate.
Gardner McKay, Sea Marks’ interesting playwright, went to ivy league college only to be discovered and promoted as a Hollywood heartthrob. Eschewing acting for a wide interest in the arts, he became an exhibited photographer and sculptor, wrote novels and award-winning plays, was literary critic for The Los Angeles Herald Examiner, and taught writing at a series of prestigious universities.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Sea Marks by Gardner McKay
Starring Xanthe Elbrick & Patrick Fitzgerald
Directed by Ciaran O’Reilly
Through June 15, 2014
The Irish Repertory Theatre
Irish Repertory Theatre 2014 Annual Gala: The Spectacular Songs of Lerner & Lowe
Featuring selections from My Fair Lady, Paint Your Wagon, Camelot, Gigi, and Brigadoon
Introduced by Joel Grey
June 9, 2014, The Al Hirschfeld Theater