Seascape/Mr. Marmalade

As an affirmation of evolutionary principles, Seascape is quite welcome; as a night of drama, it’s less so. Edward Albee won a Pulitzer in 1975 for this play about a long-married couple who venture to the beach one day and unaccountably meet a pair of talking lizards. Some skirmishing over who’s going to attack whom gives way to an interspecies chat about love, life, death, and the relative merits of small litters versus large ones.

Charlie and Nancy, two grandparents, are closer to the end than the beginning. She wants to press on, explore the world; he’d rather not. The scaly, slithering Sarah and belligerent Leslie, by contrast, are only getting started. They have decided to leave the ocean to explore dry land. It’s the sort of thing young people do; it’s also what humanity’s Paleozoic ancestors did. With this nod to the tree of life, Albee gives his little encounter between two couples a certain cosmic resonance.

And the payoff arrives when … well, actually it doesn’t. The couples’ relationships generate no emotional weight, and the heavy subjects they throw around tell us little we don’t know. In Mark Lamos’s production, the real draws are Catherine Zuber’s flamboyant lizard costumes and some fine acting from both species. Frances Sternhagen plays Nancy with her customary charm; as Sarah, Elizabeth Marvel shows her usual bright charisma. Best of all, George Grizzard imbues Charlie with an appealing naturalness, a sense of being warmly pleased with himself. The cast list is the only part of the show that moved me: so much talent, deployed on such weak material.

The same goes for the company—part of it, anyway—of Noah Haidle’s Mr. Marmalade. Another premise in search of a play, it relates the story of 4-year-old Lucy and her extremely inappropriate relationship with the imaginary friend of the title. Her little games—sex, infanticide, dirty words—show how Lucy’s environment has corroded her pretty brain. But once Haidle makes that point, he has an hour and a half to go. To judge from the wandering action, he has no clear sense of what do with it.

Director Michael Greif draws fine work from Michael C. Hall, whose Mr. Marmalade proves that he’s even more compelling onstage than onscreen, and Michael Chernus, who’s dependably funny as a series of boyfriends. The non-Michael parts of the company fare less well. Fortunately they, like their playwright, are young and will recover.

By Edward Albee At the Booth Theatre

By Noah Haidle
At the Roundabout at Laura Pels Theatre

See also: Edward Albee on his Kandinksy painting, That ‘70s Show, and skipping his own premieres.

Seascape/Mr. Marmalade