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Singing Beach

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors

Singing Beach

Cast of Singing Beach. Photographer: Joel Weber

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors

Shifting from beach, to house, to a once-luxurious ocean liner, playwright Tina Howe's flip-through new drama, Singing Beach, confronts contemporary issues with phantasmagorical visions. Howe, winner of multiple awards, presents her fascination with ecology through evocative personal dramas.

Produced by Theatre 167 at Here Arts Center, Singing Beach is set in Manchester, Massachusetts sometime in the near future. Seeking relief during a heat wave with a hurricane coming, the Sleeper family plays out this busy story in three venues on one set, the beach, summer house and a fantasy sail aboard the S.S. Pegasus. They are also facing some difficult but not unusual family problems.

Stay with me.  Ashton Sleeper (Tuck Milligan), once an acclaimed poet, is now an ailing grandfather, detached and unable to speak. Caring for him is Bennie (Naren Weiss), although Ashton's novelist daughter, Merrie (Erin Beirnard), married to Owen (John P. Keller), a classics scholar, are about to move him to a nursing home. Piper and Tyler, their two children, are from Merrie's first marriage to actor Sebastian, who only appears in their daughter, Piper's imagination.

Elodie Lucinda Morss gives a diligent performance of ten-year-old Piper, a creative child who misses her birth father who lives in England and is also influenced by her teacher, Miss Blake, a fervent advocate of climate change and the Bedouin lifestyle.. She is particularly close to her grandfather, "Grand." In this overwritten part, Piper, impressed by the stories Grand used to tell her, fights against his move to a nursing home.

Relentlessly teased by her older brother, Tyler, a precocious, overactive pre-teen played by Jackson Demott Hill, Piper creates a way to rescue Grand.  She will "take" him away on the luxurious, but imaginary S.S. Pegasus, a ship like those he sailed on when his wife was still alive and ocean sailing was glamorous. Once Piper decides on this fantasy trip, the plot gets tangled in rip tides as it alternates from the beach house to the imaginary ship.

Piper and Grand are the only original characters onboard. Family members Join them in double parts, making quick wardrobe changes, thanks to Caroline Spitzer's costume wizardry. Onboard, Merrie becomes Miss Blake, who is now, for some reason, a flirtatious flapper. Owen appears as Piper's father, Sebastian, Tyler is Credo, a stowaway, and Bennie is the Captain. Inexplicably Devin Haqq appears as Gabriel, Piper's favorite film actor. (This is her daydream, after all.) In the next scene, they are back as their primary characters.

Directed by Ari Laura Kreith (Artistic Director of Theatre 167), the acting is capable but the play's lack of cohesion is apparent and the book is flimsy, even with plenty of references to poetry, religion and culture. The family problems lack depth as does the dramatic impact of what our culture has neglected.

The staging is light and spare, lending a whimsical aura. Sets by Jen Price Fick are simple with sheets acting as sand and waves. Drama comes through Nick Straniere's sound design and by Matthew J. Fick's lighting design.

When the Category 4 hurricane hits both sea and land, its deadly consequences collide fantasy with reality. At the end, Singing Beach does not only refer to the sounds of the wind over the sand but throaty sounds of Bedouins on the wasteland of our future.

Singing Beach
Theatre 167
Here Arts Center
145 6th Ave, NYC
Preview: July 22, 2017; Opening: July 30, 2017; Closing Aug. 12, 2017
Cast: Erin Beirnard , Devin Haqq, Jackson Demott Hill, John P. Keller, Tuck Milligan, Elodie Lucinda Morss, Naren Weiss
Running time: 75 minutes. No intermission.
Written: Tina Howe
Directed: Ari Laura Kreith

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors
July 2017

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