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"Sea Marks" Is Touching and Compelling

MetroStage's exquisite production of the gentle play "Sea Marks" will remain a lovely memory for those fortunate enough to attend during its relatively brief run of the show which opened this weekend.

The two character play is just about perfect for the intimate space of their new theater on Royal Street where the audience is sufficiently distant from the elevated stage to be witnessing rather than participating in the experience but, arranged on steep risers, close enough to the actors to see and feel every emotion. Just to emphasize the immediacy of it all, director Nick Olcott brings one of the actors into the audience at one point.

"Sea Marks" is a touching work by the late Gardner McKay. Anyone witnessing this production will have to wonder how it could have failed on Broadway in 1981 and what could have been wrong with the direction or acting that could have left the critics saying the play was "dull" or "lifeless." As staged here it is immediately fascinating and teems with life from start to finish.

Primary credit must go to Michael Tolaydo and Catherine Flye both of whom are not only physically perfect for the roles but who bring an intelligent affection to the characters with the lovely names of Colm Primrose and Timothea Stiles. That they each have the acting talents required comes as no surprise to the local theater community as both have been doing splendid work here for years. Most recently Tolaydo scored with both "Macbeth" at the Folger and "A Life in the Theatre" at Source while Flye was the memorable Sister Camilla in last year's "Rapture" here at MetroStage which has earned her a nomination for the Helen Hayes Award for best actress in a play. The awards will be given out at a gala at the Kennedy Center next week.

TOLAYDO LOOKS just like the 50-ish Irish fisherman he plays with such a fine mixture of the natural physical grace of a man who spends his life on a small boat rocking in a rough sea but the shy hesitancy born of years of isolation both at sea and on the small, sparsely populated island he calls home. The poetic speech of his character comes naturally from his lips, not in any presumptuous display of intellectualism but as the natural expression of the thoughts of an intelligent man who has had many years to notice every detail of his small world and to find just the right words to capture and hold the images that are important to him.

Flye has never lost the Britishness of her accent, her manner or her looks in the years since coming to America, forming her Interact Theatre Company and treating us to such delights as her Christmastime recreations of old music hall entertainments down at "The Old Bull and Bush." Here she is the probably-just-shy-of-50-ish Welsh lass stuck in a desk job in Liverpool who falls in love with the poet she finds in the letters the fisherman writes.

Their unlikely finding of each other is the subject of the early portions of the play but, as the play progresses, it becomes much more as it explores the importance of a person's sense of self and place and the emotional anchor provided by being where you feel you belong. A love affair between two who only feel that sense of belonging in two different places is one that cannot survive. At least, not in the conventional sense.

THE WORLDS OF these two characters are physically represented in Jos. B. Musumeci, Jr.'s set design with its blue gray world of the sailor's home island and the use of furniture (and the aid of Adam Magazine's lighting shifts) to bring in the lady's world. It is a design that fits the nature of the theater as well as the play very well. Costume designer LeVonne Lindsay also provides touches of note. Director Nick Olcott adds to the creation of atmosphere with a sound design providing two separate and subtle soundscapes: one of surf, wind and rain and the other of urban traffic. They compliment and conflict subtly. But then, most every individual element of the production is marked by subtlety. The cumulative effect is touching.

"Sea Marks" plays Thursday - Sunday through May 26 at MetroStage, 1201 N. Royal St. Tickets are $30. Call 703-548-9044.