When the lights first come up on Nancy and Charlie, the central couple of Edward Albee's "Seascape," they appear to have it all. Intelligent, prosperous, attractive people of indeterminate middle age, they've settled into a sunny cove overlooking the ocean. She is busy at her easel; he's sunk into a beach chair, sipping white wine and soaking up rays.
Yet as the play proceeds, certain flaws in the pair's relationship come to light. Listening to Nancy's (Faith Potts) giddy chatter, we learn that she yearns for spontaneity and adventure, and a mate willing to take the plunge with her. Cynical Charlie (Richard Foster) knocks her every fantasy, claiming that he is quite content with the life they've built together. Just when it seems that their seaside idyll may be irrevocably shattered, a pair of enormous green English-speaking lizards named Sarah (Rosemary Regan) and Leslie (Mark Moorhead) appear on the scene to thrash out their own personal quandaries and eventually to set things right all around.
Lizards? As characters in an intimate domestic drama? When "Seascape" was first presented in 1975, there were those who found this science-fictionish intrusion to be problematic; others -- including the Pulitzer Prize committee, which gave Albee the award for Best New Drama that year -- thought the mixture of reality and fantasy both poignant and amusing. Whatever one's opinions on the play's basic premise, it is essential that its production be as poker-faced and sure-footed as possible.
In the hands of a new local dramatic ensemble by the name of Trumpet Vine Theatre Company, "Seascape" becomes a winning combination of philosophical reverie and surreal situation comedy. The production, which runs through Sunday at Montgomery College's Black Box Theatre in Takoma Park, allows us to initially relate to the human couple's problems, laugh when the gallumphing reptiles scare the blazes out of them, and seriously reflect -- almost in spite of ourselves -- when the four creatures discuss such weighty topics as evolution, risk, lust and love.
Certainly much of the credit goes to the quartet of players, especially the two women. Nancy is a lady of many words and passions; as Potts plays her, she's a fascinating blend of gab and granite, suburban matron and otherworldly explorer. Wide-eyed Regan brings a waiflike and endearing quality to the displaced Sarah, who has bravely come up from the slime but now questions that decision. Foster's Charlie spews forth all the appropriate sarcasm and bile, but his moments of sincerity don't always ring true. And though Moorhead does exhibit a definite comic flair, he often seems a trifle out of sync with his fellow actors, a tad too "Saturday Night Live"-ish in his depiction of the big bad Leslie.
In a program note, Trumpet Vine Artistic Director Rosina Mason explains how she held a rehearsal on Assateague Island to get the cast more in touch with the sand and the sea. "When Nancy and Charlie talked about the sand fleas and sun, they were there," she writes. "When the lizards climb the dunes, they had actually done it." Indeed, the exercise did pay off. The actors exhibit a sense of ease in all that they do. Adding to the effect are Greg Wurz's simple set of sculptured dunes, sandpapered floor and sky-blue backdrop. And Mason and Rebecca M. Simmons's costumes -- basic beach wear for the humans, elaborate scales, padding and ghoulish makeup for the reptiles -- set the appropriate contrast.
In the end, however, it is Albee's verbal magic that matters most. Though at times he tends toward excess (especially in Act 2), his monologues leave one breathless, both as language pure and simple and as detail-filled portraits of individuals in flux. Kudos to Mason and her young company for bringing this rarely produced theatrical eccentricity to vibrant life.
Seascape, by Edward Albee. Directed by Rosina Mason. Set design by Greg Wurz. Lighting design by Cal Stewart. Costume design and construction by Rebecca M. Simmons and Mason. With Faith Potts, Richard Foster, Mark Moorhead and Rosemary Regan. At the Black Box Theatre, Montgomery College, Takoma Park campus, through Sunday. Call 369-6124.