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He Says: Sea Wall/A Life Drowns The Public in a Beautiful Spot Light of Paternal Love and Loss

He Says: Sea Wall/A Life Drowns The Public in a Beautiful Spot Light of Paternal Love and Loss

Read me story“, says one young girl, as told to us by her father. And story-telling is what this double hitting evening of one-act plays paired together with radiant pleasure and pain is all about. As directed with empathy and clarity by Carrie Cracknell (National’s Blurred Lines), both monologues tease out their tales with precision and expertise, diving back and forth between waves of grief and joy, all wrapped around the aspects of what it is like to swim in the ocean of grief, anger, joy and the hopefulness of humanity and attachment.

Sea Wall/A Life are bookends holding their pieces of tragic fiction in place on a bare bi-level stage courtesy of the simplistic beauty of scenic designer Laura Jellinek (NYTW’s Mary Jane), with strongly telling costuming by Kaye Voyce (Public’s Office Hour), steadfast sound design by Fabian Obispo (Public’s Teenage Dick), delicate original music by Stuart Earl (Almeida’s Oil), and dynamic spot-on lighting by Peter Kaczorowski (Broadway’s Sweat), that tell somewhat similar but diametric stories of the extreme edges of life and tragedy. They jab and explore the gaping emotional hole that is born in a man’s torso when life comes into existence, and gutted when it is taken away. It’s the best bits of a man, experiencing life and death as a son, a father, and a husband, peppered with strong waves of crashing metaphors, and sliced between ‘way back then’ and ‘sometime close to now’.

Tom Sturridge. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Sea Wall clicks into place with the arrival of Tony Award nominee Tom Sturridge (Broadway’s 1984, Orphans), snapping the lights on to shed light on his third collaboration with Tony and Olivier Award winner Simon Stephens (HeisenbergOn the Shore…Wastwater). Both have a richness in their voices that when crushed together as they are here under the waves of the unknowable leaves a mark on our collective hearts.  Sturridge engulfs us in his captivating telling, steeped in the Northern Ireland swag, parceling out his two-pronged tale with tension and an edge for suspense. There is true beauty and pain in Stephens writing, born on the backside of all that is deemed of value to this simple man, a parceled out to us on Sturridge’s incoming tide of powerfulness.  His sentences drop off leaving us dangling like a swimmer at the Sea Wall. It’s truly mesmerizing, pulling us towards his love and hurt like a strong undertow that will leave us gasping for air and battling the waves to survive.  

After we catch our heart-broken breath during intermission, Academy Award nominee Jake Gyllenhaal (Broadway’s Sunday in the Park..) saunters onto the stage in similar fashion to Sturridge. Flipping the switch but then abandoning us, leaving us alone with anticipation. “Please come back, Jake“, we all plead internally, and after a few moments of keeping us at bay, he returns to the circle of light to continue his grand artistic collaboration with the fantastical detailed Nick Payne, who gave birth to one of my all time favorite Broadway experiences, Constellations. Like he did in that magnificent piece, Jake dives in, matching the pace and manner of Sturridge, but with some slightly different tones and connections.  His pacing, flipping from one aside to another, is a bit more abrupt, and his delivery more charming than dangerous. But we can’t help but care for this man, even as I beg him to slow down, and dig in some more. Dive, Jake, in deeper into the pauses, and give us a chance to see the flip-side of fatherdom. It’s compassionately engaging, but not as breathless and damaging to our souls.

Jake Gyllenhaal. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Payne’s A Life doesn’t have the intense punch to the gut like Stephens’ Sea Wall, even though both deliver the material with a clear sense of purpose. They do balance one another with a focused grace and a clear paternal care, from both ends of the spectrum. It’s the creation of life and the taking away of that same gift. It’s simplistically authentic, especially in the way it jumps quickly around to the backside of each emotional moment with clarity of vision and heart. To climb this hill is to give each one of us a breathtaking view of the complexities of humanity and fatherhood. It’s about being a man, without worrying about masculinity. And the pleasure is pure and gratifying, especially once we struggle back to the surface and catch our much needed breath.

Tom Sturridge. Photo by Joan Marcus. 
SEA WALL / A LIFE began performances on Friday, February 1 in The Public’s Newman Theater and will run through Sunday, March 31. Public Theater Partner, Public Supporter, and Member tickets are available now. Full price tickets, starting at $110, can be accessed by calling (212) 967-7555, visiting, or in person at the Taub Box Office at The Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street.
The performance schedule is Tuesday through Friday at 8:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. (There is no 2:00 p.m. performance on Saturday, February 9. There is no 8:00 p.m. performance on Sunday, February 10; and Friday, February 15. There is an added performance on Monday, February 11 at 8:00 p.m.).

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Off Broadway

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to

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