Review: ‘In the Secret Sea’ at The Beckett Theatre in NYC

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A company called Wellington Road, LLC has produced this 80-minute play by Cate Ryan at the Beckett Theatre on Theatre Row on 42nd Street, with a company of five featured players, under the direction of Martin Charnin.

Paul Carlin (Gil) and Glynnis O'Connor (Joyce). Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Paul Carlin (Gil) and Glynnis O’Connor (Joyce). Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Charnin was the original lyricist and director of the very popular musical Annie, made his authentic theatrical debut in 1987 and the gang member in West Side Story who presented his case to a police officer in “Gee, Officer Krupke”. He’s worked with many celebrities as writer and director in TV and cabaret. His many talents have won him Tonys, Grammys, Emmys, and the Peabody Award for Broadcasting. So one has to wonder what attracted him to this well meaning and sincere, but conventionally written drama, dealing with a huge secret in the life of a young man who is about to become a father for the first time. The play introduces us to his parents, and to the parents of his bride. She too is a major character, but  she keeps her distance and never quite makes it on to the stage.

Ms. Ryan has written several plays which have been exposed in regional productions, but she also has a B.S. in nursing, and this current work  contains many references to the world of medicine. She’s done her research, and the technical sections of the play ring with a fair amount of seeming accuracy. It is in the relationships among the five characters who populate her story that she falls short. Gil and Joyce Osborne, who are parents to Kenny, are reluctantly preparing a simple Easter dinner for his in-laws to celebrate the pregnancy of his offstage wife. Kenny’s arrival with shocking news starts the play’s engine and with the arrival of Jack and Audrey, the in-laws, tension elevates quickly, and in the course of the remaining hour of playing time, Ms. Cate does her best to write eloquently and with insight about these adults caught in a web that is not of their own making.

The evening’s demands are met by the four middle aged actors who play the parents. Paul Carlin and Glynnis O’Connor, Kenny’s parents, have a tough time moving us even remotely like George and  Martha, the married couple in Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  (whom they resemble). For their arguments (and there are many) are of the “you never listen” and “you’ve said that a dozen times” and  other superficial squabbly sort of things, which makes them emerge more as the Bickersons than as half of a team of protaganists joined in battle over what and how to deal with the problem that Kenny and his bride present to them.

I can’t tell you more specifically what that problem is, for Ms. Ryan goes to great pains to keep it even from the audience, and it’s  only the very real pain felt by Kenny, which young Adam Petherbridge conveys most movingly, that peaks our interest and  makes us wish to stick around to see where it all leads. Some of the sudden changes of commitment to an idea are soapy and contrived; once in a while there will be the odd brief one-on-one battle that is truly engaging. But for the most part, the “secrets” that are revealed by the older couples on this fateful Easter, the long stifled admissions that have been paid for over the four lifetimes, are too neatly packaged and explained to move me particularly.

The cast of 'In the Secret Sea.' Photo by Carol Rosegg.
The cast of ‘In the Secret Sea.’ Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Of the four older character actors, Glynnis O’Connor comes closest to giving us a three dimensional wife and mother, who has sacrificed much for the security of a fairly conventional marriage. The other three have their moments,  but they haven’t been able to transcend the rather pedestrian writing used to characterize their dialog. Again, Adam Peterbridge uses some of the better writing in his performance of Kenny to genuinely move us. Not a false note in his work; he lets us see him grow from a still adolescent young husband into a mature and caring adult who will manage the troubled passage with great success.

Mr. Charnin has staged the piece adequately, though the perfectly alright set design by Beowulf Boritt and Alexis Distler seemed to me more suited to a middle class apartment living room, furnished sensibly but without imagination. This might intentionally be meant to convey the proper background  for  the seemingly average Gil and Joyce, but the program tells us they live in a “long established upscale suburb of Connecticut.” Maybe. But if so, they surely live on the wrong side of town.

A noble attempt to dramatize a difficult subject, which tells a sad story, but there is no majesty in the telling, and it left me informed, but unmoved.

In the Secret Sea plays at The Beckett Theatre – on Theatre Row – 410 West 42nd Street, in New York City. For tickets, call Telecharge at (212) 239-6200 or 800-447-7400, or purchase them online.

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Richard Seff
RICHARD SEFF has been working in theatre since he made his acting debut in support of Claude Rains in the prize winning DARKNESS AT NOON, and he agreed to tour the next season in support of Edward G. Robinson, which took him across the nation and back for nine months. When it was over and he was immediately offered another national tour with THE SHRIKE with Van Heflin, he decided to explore other areas, and he spent the next 22 years representing artists in the theatre as an agent, where he worked at Liebling-Wood, MCA, eventually a partnership of his own called Hesseltine-Bookman and Seff, where he discovered and developed young talents like Chita Rivera, John Kander, Fred Ebb, Ron Field, Linda Lavin, Nancy Dussault and many others. He ultimately sold his interest to ICM. When he completed his contractual obligation to that international agency, he returned to his first love, acting and writing for the theatre. In that phase of his long and varied life, he wrote a comedy (PARIS IS OUT!) which brightened the 1970 season on Broadway for 107 performances. He became a successful supporting player in film, tv and onstage, and ultimately wrote a book about his journey, SUPPORTING PLAYER: MY LIFE UPON THE WICKED STAGE, still popular with older theatre lovers and youngsters who may not yet know exactly where they will most sensibly and profitably fit into the world of show business. The book chronicles a life of joyous work working in a favored profession in many areas, including leading roles in the regional theatres in his work in Lanford Wilson's ANGELS FALL. His last stage role was in THE COUNTESS in which he played Mr. Ruskin for 9 months off Broadway. Five seasons ago Joel Markowitz suggested he join him at DCTheatreScene. His accurate and readable reviews of the New York Scene led, when the time was right, for his joining DCMetroTheaterArts to continue bringing news of the Big Apple's productions just to keep you posted. He is delighted to be able to join DCMTA and work with Joel and hopes that you like what he has to say.

1 COMMENT

  1. Perfect review of a perfectly awful play – heart wrenching story told poorly because of weak writing, wrong set design, overacting (all four “mature” actors were guilty of this), and awkward staging. Only Adam Peterbridge (Kenny) was on target in convincing us of his profound sadness and struggle (despite many poorly constructed or trite lines in his script). Sorry, but this is rated in my book as one of the worst I have ever seen.

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