BOSTON — Two green, scaly lizards slither on stage in Boston as part of a new, reconstituted production of Edward Albee’s play “Seascape.”
For its Broadway premiere in 1975, Albee cut challenging underwater scenes from the script. But now, for the very first time, American audiences go below the surf to see “Seascape” as it was originally written.
We sent WBUR’s Andrea Shea to find out how a small Boston theater company got permission to dive into scenes edited from “Seascape” 33 years ago.
TEXT OF STORY:
DAVID MILLER: In the simplest terms, I asked. (laughs)
ANDREA SHEA: That’s Zeitgeist Stage Director David Miller. He’s a self-professed Edward Albee groupie. The American playwright’s cutting dialogue and fearless take on marriage grabbed Miller decades ago.
MILLER: When I was 13 I saw “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” on TV and I was just mesmerized by it.
SHEA: He still is. Now in his 40s Miller directs edgy plays and also owns “Encore,” a theatre-themed Bed and Breakfast in South Boston. He named an upstairs room after his idol.As it turns out Albee himself slept in “The Albee Room,” a few years ago. From that visit Miller obtained the playwright’s e-mail address. Miller remembered reading about the three Act version of “Seascape.” So he asked Albee for permission to stage the play with the missing underwater scenes. The request inspired Albee to revisit his original script.
EDWARD ALBEE: And I discovered that I liked it just as much as the two act version, maybe even more! And I certainly wanted to see it on its feet.
SHEA: An apt choice of words because “Seascape” is about evolution. Thinking back on the play’s evolution Albee says he excised the underwater scenes for the Broadway premiere because his producers said the sets would be too complicated and too costly. The ending was, perhaps, too much of a “downer.” Albee changed that too. Now the 80 year-old playwright is thrilled to see the original version of “Seascape.”
ALBEE: I wrote this three act play where two humans beings are sitting on the beach on Cape Cod probably, and they’re confronted by two giant lizards who happen to speak English.
EMMA GOODMAN: We’re lizards in the process of evolution rather than just plain lizards.
SHEA: Boston actress Emma Goodman plays the lizard named Sarah in the new “Seascape.”
GOODMAN: So when we first get on stage we are seeing the humans and they see us and they’re terrified because, well, we’re human sized lizards.
SCENE FROM PLAY: (Screaming and gasping) ” Stay here Nancy. Stay back here! Get me a stick! Charlie what are they? Get me a stick, a stick!”
SHEA: In the two act version the lizards begin to talk on the beach. Human turf. In the re-hydrated three Act script the lizards take the anxious humans, Charlie and Nancy, underwater to their world.
SCENE 2 FROM PLAY: “Nancy, we’re going to die!
SHEA: Once below the humans warm up to the environment, and soon to their scaly captors.
SCENE 3 FROM PLAY: “Let’s introduce ourselves Charlie. You’re rather large, quite unusual. Were you thinking of eating us?
SHEA: Claude Del plays Leslie the lizard, Sarah’s feisty mate.
CLAUDE DEL: I’m definitely in awe, I’m not believing what they’re saying I think they’re pulling my leg, so to speak. But there are other times where there are similarities I find between the lizards and the humans.
SHEA: And that’s the point of the play: that humans aren’t that many steps out of the evolutionary muck. To create the surreal, underwater world Lighting Designer Jeff Adleberg says he opted to saturate the stage and the actors simply, in deep blues and greens.
JEFF ADLEBERG: I mean we’re obviously not quite there yet, you’ve seen it, and it’s still a little rocky, the transition isn’t totally graceful yet, but I think we can do it.
SHEA: Director David Miller designed the set, carting in four and a half tons of sand for the beach, which also serves as the ocean floor. He says Albee’s Broadway producers might’ve been daunted by the underwater scenes because they often lean towards Disneyesque.
DAVID MILLER: Certainly you don’t want to use Mr. Albee and Disney in the same sentence but creating a realistic underwater atmosphere could be very costly, and then you get into ok are the humans on wires, how do you do that suspended floating thing?
SHEA: And how do you get the audience members to suspend their disbelief?
MILLER: You just ask the audience to go along with you and use their imagination and for me that’s what theater is about.
SHEA: Edward Albee agrees. He has faith in the Zeitgeist production, and the play itself. He muses, though, about the fact that the two Act version that ran on Broadway 33 years ago won a Pulizter Prize.
EDWARD ALBEE: That’s interesting it won the Pulitzer Prize, when the three act version comes out if people see that I wonder if they’ll take the prize away from me, you never know (laughs).
SHEA: Edward Albee says he plans to come to Boston to see the reconstituted version of “Seascape” later this month. It will be for the first time he’s ever seen it staged…wet.
For WBUR, I’m Andrea Shea.
The Zeitgeist Stage Company presents the American Premiere of the original version of Edward Albee’s “Seascape” now through October 25th at the Plaza Theater in Boston’s South End. To see photos and a video from rehearsal go to our website: wbur.org.