Sunday, February 3, 2019

New ACT director makes debut with 'Seascape'

Charlie (James Carpenter) and Nancy (Ellen McLaughlin) are frightened by the appearance of two big lizards, Sarah (Sarah Nina Hayon, center left) and Leslie (Seann Gallagher). (Photo by Kevin Berne)

American Conservatory Theater’s new artistic director, Pam MacKinnon, is making her directorial debut there with Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Seascape.”

It’s set on a beach where a retired married couple, Nancy (Ellen McLaughlin) and Charlie (James Carpenter) have just had a picnic lunch.

Nancy says she’d like to spend the rest of their days going from beach to beach, while Charlie just wants to rest. These differing desires lead into talk about their relationship, which apparently has reached a turning point with their recent retirement.

Their conversation is interrupted by the appearance of two human-size lizards, Leslie (Seann Gallagher), and his mate, Sarah (Sarah Nina Hayon). Nancy and Charlie are understandably frightened, but overcome their fear while remaining wary, especially on Charlie’s part.

Although Leslie and Sarah speak English, they don’t understand many concepts, especially abstract ones like love. They become frustrated with the humans’ inability to explain them.

Like Nancy and Charlie, though, Leslie and Sarah are on the verge of change. They no longer feel comfortable in the sea, yet they’re fearful of land. Nancy and Charlie offer to help them with the evolution.

Much of the first act is talky, a virtual monologue by Nancy. Hence it tends to drag until the lizards show up.

The second act is more interesting with interaction among the characters as they explore their differences.

A fifth character, so to speak, is the impressive set by David Zinn (with lighting by Isabella Byrd). The opening night audience applauded when the curtain rose to reveal a white sand beach in front of a high dune dotted with vegetation. Behind the dune are the unadorned stage walls, catwalks and light banks.

Zinn also designed the costumes, quite a feat for the lizards with their long tails and reptilian limbs. Movement coach Danyon Davis makes their actions realistic.

Also adding to the ambience is the sound design by Brendan Aanes, complete with lapping waves, seagulls and an occasional low-flying jet.

All four actors do well with their roles, which are more complex than they might seem on the surface.

Running about two hours with one intermission, “Seascape” will continue through Feb. 17 at ACT’s Geary Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco.

For tickets and information, call (415) 749-2228 or visit