The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (published 1798) is a classic text often utilized in high school or early college curriculums. Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s longest poem, the saga of a sailor returned from a dangerous sea voyage, is rife with brutality, death and supernatural forces. Playwrights Matthew Spangler and Benjamin Evett have taken the tale and presented the sailor to us elaborating backstory and details, reenacting his incredible adventure as ostensibly told to Coleridge.
There’s no fourth wall. Actor Benjamin Evett, impassioned, exhausted, and haunted relates “his” experience as he has again and again, penitently wandering the earth, perhaps in hopes of exorcism or at least a few coins for sustenance. Passages of the original poem are enmeshed. Much of the descriptive writing is poetic without feeling anachronistic allowing the two to entwine. In fact, the only thing amiss with this script are repeated, thoroughly annoying references to the present – cell phones, Internet etc. which rip us away from the power of the chronicle and back into our theater seats. A big mistake.
Drugged and kidnapped for his navigational knowledge, the mariner sails with Captain Black Dog – privateer/pirate (depending which is more profitable) and the sailor’s complicit, bleeding heart (?) brother Roger to the South Seas. When the ship is drawn way off course by a Spanish Galleon (a phantom vessel) with whom they do battle, the predators find themselves in uncharted seas. A storm renders sails useless. Temperature precipitously drops. Ice floats by. Food and water are used up. Grisly and ghostly things occur. An albatross becomes symbolic of man’s savage nature. Only the mariner makes it back home.
Co-Writer and Actor Benjamin Evett brings terrific physicality to his role. Vigorous and pugnacious, he practically attacks his audience with the story. Violence seems natural. Energy is unremitting. Some of the time, Evett will hold you fast, wincing with repulsion or sympathy. At others, he becomes slick, disconnecting from experience, gushing, rather than, as the character, remembering. This is a trap in solo performances. I saw a preview and hope this obviously capable artist will demand of himself what we need to go through the experience he offers.
Weak stomachs beware. Director Rick Lombardo manages to make unthinkably horrific situations immediate. The mariner’s visceral trials are manifest with wrenching movement and gesture. Cataclysmic events wreck havoc onstage. Use of the minimal Set is all one could wish for with the addition of imagination. Pacing grips. It might serve the piece to vary emotional level a bit more. Starting aggressive/maddened without respite means we’ve less far to go. Mostly, Lombardo needs to keep an eye on his star.
Production values are simply marvelous. Cristina Todesco’s hanging ropes, winches, sandbags, coils and threadbare, patchwork sails work wonderfully. A 12-foot ladder doubles as up-rigging. While an unnecessary ghost light might indicate staging, discarded theater lights and trunks take us away from immersion.
Frances McSherry’s Costume is filthy and torn down to its longjohns in a way that appears completely credible. You may itch. Garrett Herzig adds immensely with artful, and very original Projections as well as superb Lighting. Rick Lombardo’s Sound Design puts us right there at all times.
Photos by Carole Goldfarb
The Poets Theatre and Michael Seiden present
Albatross by Matthew Spangler and Benjamin Evett
Featuring Benjamin Evett
Directed by Rick Lombardo
Through February 12, 2017
59E 59 Theaters
59 East 59th Street