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A Day by the Sea

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors

Julian Elfer and Jill Tanner in A Day by the Sea. Photo: Richard Termine

Julian Elfer and Jill Tanner in A Day by the Sea. Photo: Richard Termine

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors

Undeniably, A Day by the Sea is languid, even placid, an amiable but bittersweet visit with the comfortable middle-class Anson family as they examine glances into their own lives and comment on the lives of each other. This droll and poignant look at human nature and its all-too-human vicissitudes and illusions is portrayed by a fine-tuned cast.

Directed with a light touch by Austin Pendleton at the Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row, it moves without a plot, without jolts of farce or theatricality. Casually, playwright N.C. Hunter reflects how his characters change, or don't change, how illogical they often are to themselves and how irritating they can be to others. Always evident is the concept of time, how much has passed and how much is left.

In May 1953, family and long-time friends gather in the Laura Anson's (Jill Tanner) garden in Dorset. Matriarch Laura has planned a picnic on the beach for her family, elderly David Anson (George Morfogen) and his nurse/companion, Dr. Farley (Philip Goodwin). Visiting the Ansons is a long-ago younger friend, widow/divorcee Frances Farrar (Katie Firth) with her two children, Elinor and Toby Eddison (Kylie Vey and Athan Sporek).

Also stopping by is Laura's son, Julian (Julian Elfer), the play's central character, who grew up in Dorset with Frances. He became a hard-working, mid-level Foreign Service worker. Even for this brief visit home, he brought along a work companion, William Gregson (Corzon Dobell) and later, another visitor arrives, a senior Foreign Service worker, Humphrey Caldwell (Sean Gormley), with disappointing career news to Julian, shattering his comfortable, idealistic life.

This news throws Julian's life into disarray as he remembers decisions and events that had brought him to this unfortunate professional situation and cannot be undone. He has always believed that eventually the world can achieve peace, as long as good people keep working toward that goal. Now, disappointed with his sudden lower status in the Foreign Service, he realizes that putting his unappreciated career first, robbed him of possible marriage and a family years ago with Frances.

Julian also realizes that now at 40-years-old, he still has time to reshape his life and since Frances is currently unattached, he decides they can forge a new life together. The possibility exists but life does not always flow rationally.

Award-winning actor Julian Elfer persuasively portrays Julian Anson as a stuffy civil servant although he is less effective in those moments when his character should show some wit and enthusiasm. As Frances, Firth is spot-on, sensible, proving she has learned from her mistakes, but has her character moved on or will husband #3 be the charm?.

Playing Laura, Jill Tanner is persuasive as a fussy, know-it-all who wants to plans her life and everyone else's as meticulously as she plants her garden. George Morfogen is a convincing curmudgeon with just a hint of knowing more than he lets on, and as his nurse, the dipsomaniac Dr, Farley, Philip Goodwin is amiably flawed. Polly McKie's warm portrayal of housekeeper, Miss Mathieson, is truly lamentable as a lonely middle-aged woman yearning for a family of her own before it is too late.

The flow of Hunter's play fits like a perfect puzzle piece into a well-arranged, uncluttered set designed by Charles Morgan, showing the garden and the beach like impressionistic watercolors. During two intermissions, the set is rearranged, alternating two large paintings in a large frame that serves as backdrop with lighting by Xavier Pierce and the sounds of the sea by Jane Shaw. Martha Hally dressed the characters suitably, Frances in city dress and high heels and Laura, loose and casual country wear. The alcoholic doctor is the only man always slightly disheveled.

While playwright N.C. Hunter takes his time examining his characters and the lives they live, he remains perceptive in his examination of human misunderstandings. This is the first New York revival of A Day by the Sea.


A Day by the Sea
Directed By Austin Pendleton
Previews: July 22, 2016. Opens Aug. 25, 2016. Closes Sept. 24, 2016.
The Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Ave)
Running time: Two hours. 55 minutes. Two intermissions

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors

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