KCPT’s winning “Sea Marks”

Jason Victor Serinus
Posted 10/9/19

“Endearing” often serves as a catch-all adjective for those who don’t want to cast their descriptive nets very far.

But in the case of Key City’s Public Theatre’s …

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KCPT’s winning “Sea Marks”

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“Endearing” often serves as a catch-all adjective for those who don’t want to cast their descriptive nets very far.

But in the case of Key City’s Public Theatre’s current production of Gardner McKay’s two-act love story, “Sea Marks: A Tale from the Irish Coast,” the writing, cast, and production are all so heart-touching that, time and time again, “endearing” is the only word that will do.

A perfect play, “Sea Marks” is not. It may have won the Los Angeles Drama Critics’ Circle Best Play Award, but for plausibility, it can’t compete with another Irish tale, Jez Butterworth’s “Ferryman,” which won the 2019 Tony Award for Best Play. At more than one point, McKay seems to have decided “This is such a perfect place to insert a heart-tugging moment so moving that people won’t notice the transition from there to here is barely credible.” Indeed, it’s hard to mind when veteran Seattle-based actor Eric Ray Anderson delivers lead character Colm Primrose’s final monologue as a poetic tour de force worthy of a standing ovation.

KCPT vet Crystal Eisele, who plays Timothea Stiles, Anderson’s counterpart and love interest, delivers a performance almost as credible. The “almost” refers to her pseudo-Welsh accent, which comes and goes far more frequently than the tide rises and falls. Once past that little bugaboo, however, Eisele scores with a performance almost as winning as those in KCPT’s recent productions of “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and “The Book Club.” “Sea Marks” doesn’t gift her with any of those big wipe-the-stage-clean, open-the-dramatic-floodgate moments in which she excels, but she’s virtually as moving in the play’s many microcosmic outpourings.

Rather than pretending to be an episode from real life, the play acknowledges its provenance from the opening monologue, where Colin faces directly forward and tells the audience about his many decades as a fisherman. His language is uncommonly poetic and moving—so moving that his carefully constructed, initially cautious exploratory letters to the equally middle-aged Timothea seem to flow naturally from his pen.Their awkward, oft-naïve innocence is so touching that they seduce Timothea and us well before intermission. At the end of Act I, one young woman in the row in front of me was in tears, and the majority of audience members seemed to glide out to the lobby as if floating on one big love boat. KCPT could just as easily have programmed this play as February’s Valentine offering, and sold the theatre out night after night.

There are a few awkward moments in the production where neither actors nor director knows exactly what to do. The emotions are hardly uncommon, but they arise unexpectedly, with a timing that differ from the actors’ natural flow. Perhaps a little stronger direction from Allen Fitzpatrick, who directed a 2003 revival of Sea Marks off Broadway, at the American Theatre for Actors, might have remedied such awkwardness. But so much of the actors’ timing is so right, and the production so strong, that you will likely bless the missteps with the same smile of unconditional forgiveness with which so many of us sustain the deepest love relationships of our lives.

Colm Primrose takes a risk—a risk almost as great as those he embraces daily when he sets out to sea—by reaching out to an ex-farm girl in far off Liverpool with whom he exchanged a few words a year or two before. His willingness to reveal himself with naked honesty is so touching that we can easily understand why Timothea Stiles invites him to visit her in Liverpool. Totally out of his element, his only resources are his vulnerability, way with words, and charm. In Act I, it’s hard to tell which flows faster, the “oh” moments or the hilarious ones.

Is this an all-thumbs up production? Does it matter? If you love to be charmed, moved, tickled and transported in turn, “Sea Marks” late-life romance by the sea will leave you the richer for having seen it.

(Jason Victor Serinus is a music, audio, and theater reviewer who has written for Opera News, Stereophile, Carnegie Hall Playbill, Gramophone, San Francisco Magazine, and Gay City News among others. A prize-winning professional whistler, he performed Woodstock’s Puccini aria in the Peanuts cartoon, “She’s a Good Skate, Charlie Brown.”)

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