Elevate Difference

Homens ao Mar (Sea Plays) (1/28/2009)

Chicago, Illinois

Companhia Triptal's staging of O'Neill's Sea Plays refuses a fourth wall through three sets and forced-march participation, a “Blue Waterman Group,” perhaps. There was a risk of getting damp, but the audience was not pelted with salt pork. The plays are set on the S. S. Glencairn, a cargo freighter packed with dynamite heading from Baltimore to Britain. Viewers gather in the Owen Theatre and first hear intermittent singing, one presumes sea chanties—fifteen men on a dead man's chest, a yo ho ho and a bottle of rum—except in Portuguese.

Supertitles were not provided, but a synopsis was. A storm gathers, and a door swings open and shut to reveal assorted sailors in the deluge, swinging ropes, water sprayed from a hose. The captain emerges once the storm dies down and beckons you on stage. Men in navy stocking caps—the mates—guide the crowd into formation. A risk of innovation is the possibility of literally "losing" the audience—in this case, not by a stage in a maze, but by the challenge of having people gather, standing, in one end of the performance space, so that many simply cannot see the actors. (And a couple of the ones that took their shirts off by the third act were worth seeing.) An alternative performance panel convened at the Experimental Station last year, and one participant observed, "If the audience leaves, the play is pretty much over." Correspondingly, if the audience cannot view the show...

Fortunately, that was a non-issue for the final portion of the performance. Another reviewer described the actors as "terrifying." This may have been the case for In the Zone, but the themes of Bound East for Cardiff—friendship and loss, power and want—permit a more nuanced range to manifest. As I left, a personage two seats to my left, apparently associated with the theater, held forth on how well the actors conveyed the content, and I agree, but was forced to consider the extent to which art can provide people with windows into the lives of others, a class tourism that works in both directions. Apparently the Dynasty TV series was wildly popular across the globe. In this case, we viewed a story regarding hungry men doing dirty, hard, dangerous work and then left the theatre—innovatively—through a conventionally off-limits backstage concrete corridor. The refreshment counter had closed, so wine and chocolate were no longer available.

Photo Courtesy of Companhia Triptal

Written by: Erika Mikkalo, February 17th 2009