It may seem intriguing at first, but self-indulgent craziness gets old fast. That's the problem with Don Nigro's Seascape With Sharks and Dancer--it starts out well, but because the main creature is so sunk in self-pity, she doesn't evolve. Such a failure to change may be true to life, but on stage, it's strangely unsatisfying. So despite a sterling performance from Sabra Malkinson, vigorous direction by Tom Rowan and a terrific first act, Seascape With Sharks fizzles in the second act because it has nowhere to go.
The story involves a handsome young man, Ben, who works in a library by day and on his first novel by night. As the show opens, a young woman (clad only in a T-shirt and men's boxers) sleeps on a couch, wrapped in a blanket. Imperious, even nasty when she awakens, Tracy demands too much of the man who has just saved her from drowning--"dancing," as she puts it--in the deep blue sea. Ben can do nothing to please her. She tells him he's an ineffectual eunuch because he didn't rape her when she was naked, wet and unconscious. She demands that he tell her a story, then proceeds to tell him her own sordid tale.
We learn how her parents gave her animals that all ended up as roadkill and how she hates Mom and Dad--who don't care much for her, either. She tells Ben how, after a particularly sleazy lover moved out without saying goodbye, she spent her last subway token on a ride to the aquarium to watch the sharks. Heavy symbolism there.
It's hard to assess why this damaged female is so mean or so mad, because none of the experiences she relates sounds bad enough to justify her own inability to love. But then, love is hard, neurosis is easy. Tracy keeps trying to push Ben away, even though she actually cares for him. Finally she gets pregnant and has an abortion, just to make him hate her. You'd think she'd at least have a good excuse for all this revolting self-concern--a sexually abusive father or something. But no, it's just the roadkill thing--that and too many lovers.
Malkinson fights hard to make the embittered Tracy believable. Lumbering around the set like a she-bear in a blanket, she roars discordantly at all attempts to reach her. But the actress's natural grace peeks through every now and then--particularly as she scampers up and down the ladder to the bedroom loft--and that body language confers more layers on the character than Nigro has actually written into the part.
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In fact, Malkinson is a treat to watch, and it's her performance that keeps the material fresh enough to involve us. As Ben, Marty Lindsey hasn't nearly as much to do. His main function is to act as a punching bag--when he's not rescuing Tracy, that is. Lindsey has a boyish, easy charm that endears his character to us. And while Ben puts up with too much and we never really understand why, Lindsey never allows him to appear weak--just long-suffering.
So the problem here isn't the performances--or even the dialogue, which for the most part is clever and intense. But throughout the first act, as Tracy spins on various emotional dimes, we keep expecting something else--a greater revelation, a more profound insight into life. The title suggests that there will be more of mystery and metaphor than playwright Nigro subsequently delivers. More is the least we should expect.
Seascape With Sharks and Dancer, a Director's Theatre production through February 15 at the Guild Theatre, 4840 Sterling Drive, Boulder, 499-5552.