Wellington Road, LLC
In the Secret Sea
By Cate Ryan
Directed by Martin Charnin
(Theatre Row Website)
410 West 42nd Street
Shelly Burch, Paul Carlin, Malachy Cleary
Glynnis O’Connor, Adam Petherbridge
Scenic Design: Beowulf Boritt & Alexis Distler
Costume Design: Suzy Benzinger
Lighting Design: Ken Billington
Sound Design: Kevin Heard
General Press Representative: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Production Stage Manager: William H. Lang
Production Supervisor: Production Core
Casting: Deborah Brown
General Management: FGTM/Joe Watson
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 30, 2016 Matinee
In a non-descript living room, on Easter Sunday, a tense, long-married couple, Glynnis Johns, as Joyce, and Paul Carlin, as Gil, squabble about the waste or worthiness of the Easter mass they just attended, about why they’re still sleeping in separate bedrooms, about how much time is left to cook dinner for their son’s in-laws who will shortly arrive, about their son, Kenny’s (Adam Petherbridge) marriage to Gail (offstage), about their excitement or lack, thereof, about becoming grandparents, and about Joyce’s revelation that she had never enjoyed being pregnant. As they await their son and very pregnant daughter-in-law, Kenny arrives alone, expanding the already suffocating scene, as he’s cringing and trembling with a secret. Ultimately, his parents, and we, learn that Kenny and Gail’s baby is diagnosed with “fetal cerebral malformation” and that the pediatrician recommends a termination of birth. And, there, in that moment, lies playwright, Cate Ryan’s main thematic focus, the medical-scientific vs. moral-emotional resolution of this profound, personal dilemma.
Before we know it, Kenny is gone to meet up with his wife, who is sick with sadness. As noted, we never meet Gail, and that’s the first flaw of this new, one-act play, as the dynamic of the mother would have added depth. We do meet Shelly Burch and Malachy Cleary, as Gail’s parents, Audrey and Jack. They arrive for Easter dinner, an afternoon that turns into a four-person huddle on or around the well-worn couch, throwing terms at Google and a laptop computer. The action of this brief play becomes an argumentative dialogue for the two older couples, fueled with liquor, about the fate of their afflicted, unborn grandchild. The more they recite what’s found online, the more dire the medical prophesies. Additionally, the more tense the arguments become, the more private are the shared recriminations and remorse. Yet, amidst all this internalized angst, the characters never completely lose control, on any level. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, this is not. In fact, an epilogue presents the audience with a calming culmination.
Martin Charnin, the original crème de la crème director and lyricist of Annie, and the original juvenile delinquent character in the musical, West Side Story, seems way beyond this brief, one-act, Off-Broadway play, but the company was certainly lucky to get him, as well as the highly regarded scenic designer, Beowulf Boritt, who even had a second designer on hand, Alexis Distler. The Producers, Wellington, LLC, were obviously determined to make the most of this small production at Theatre Row. The two scenic designers teamed up for a suburban, Connecticut living room, replete with small coffee table, ordinary table lamps, throw pillows, magazines, a few busy bottles of liquor, and a television remote. Mr. Boritt is better known for designing magnificent sets for Lincoln Center Theater’s Act One and Roundabout Theatre Company’s Thérèse Raquin. Suzy Benzinger’s costumes are suburban Sunday, and Ken Billington’s lighting was warm. Kevin Heard’s sound design kept the dialogue crisp.
Ms. Ryan, a surgical nurse by day, added precise medical terms and descriptions to her play’s thematic focus, but the actors’ dialogue was often stilted and fragmented, keeping the characters psychically remote. Speaking of remote, as noted, the character of Gail should have been added onstage to speak to her own experience. The title “In the Secret Sea” refers to Joyce’s own doctor’s term for her womb. Ms. Ryan’s work is a good start in opening a larger dialogue, in theater, about crucial and personal medical decisions, and the interrelationship of science and ethics.