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A CurtainUp Review
Sea Wall/A Life
By Elyse Sommer
For sure, Tom Sturridge and Jake Gyllenhaal, have powerful enough acting chops, not to mention ticket selling star power, to make Sea Wall/A Life, a high profile, electrifying experience, especially since the scribes for this solo duet are also high profile: Simon Stephens (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time & Heisenberg) and Nick Payne (Constellations & If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet).
Sturridge and Gyllenhaal are indeed fine thespians and Stephens and Payne know how to write intelligent, meaningful dialogue. The ideas both Sturridge's Alex and Gyllenhaal's Abe ponder give these separately written monologues a thematic connection. So this double duo really electrify? Would it sell every seat in the Public's largest theater without Gyllenhaal and Sturridge?
It's understandable that the Public Theater is accommodating the actors' many fans by staging these monologues in the Newman instead of one of their smaller venues. To their credit, neither actor showboats his role. And director Carrie Cracknell and her designers haven't gone overboard to take advantage of the big stage. Instead they've created an appropriately almost bare visual environment. Still, these delicate pieces belong in a more intimate setting.
Sturridge's Alex is a photographer whose recollections cover visits to the French seaside retirement home of his father-in-law, a former military man and math teacher. While Alex clearly had his problems, nothing is going to top the tragedy which, for all his rambling recollections, is going to erupt eventually.
To break the monotony of having Alex deliver his story standing in the spotlight like a speaker at a Ted Talk, Cracknell has him clamber up and down between that spotlight position and the upper level representing the titular wall.
Unlike the Sea Wall staging, that upper wall is pretty much blacked out, though Abe does have his chance to break free from that lecture stance by actually leaving the stage, heading up one aisle and then moving past Row H, where I happened to be sitting, to head back on the other side. It was fun to see him briefly that up close. And the piano that seemed on stage for no reason in Sea Wall, does get a brief (if not particularly necessary) work out here.
This double bill has been smartly staged and it's certainly a treat to see these actors strut their stuff in the flesh. Still, the similarity of their monologues presented right on top of one another somehow dramatically weakens rather than strengthens the connection.
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Sea Wall / A Life
Sea Wall by Simon Stephens
Starring Tom Sturridge
A Life by Nick Payne
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal Directed by Carrie Cracknell
Sets: Laura Jellinek
Lighting: Peter Kaczorowski
Sound; Fabian Obispo
Original Music: Stuart Earl
Stage Manager: Peter Lawrence
Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes. Public's Newman Theater
From 2/01/19; opening 2/14/19; closing 3/31/19
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer on March 3, 2019
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