Saturday, January 15, 2011

Words of love, entwined hearts

Review: Two-person Olympia Little Theatre play 'Sea Marks' drips sweet yearning

Published in The Olympian and The News Tribune, Jan. 14, 2011
Hannah Andrews and Thomas Neely in “Sea Marks” at Olympia Little Theatre, photo by Toni Holm

I couldn’t attend opening night of “Sea Marks” at Olympia Little Theatre, but I did go to a dress rehearsal and was impressed with the realism and poetry of the story and the naturalism of the acting. Thomas Neely and Hannah Andrews are absolutely believable as the mismatched couple Colin Primrose and Timothea Stiles in the two-person play.

The direction and the simple but effective set by Terance Artz invite the audience into the lives and private thoughts of this couple.

Colin is a proud but lonely fisherman who lives in a little house on a cliff overlooking the sea on the island of Cliffhorn Heads, Ireland – a fictitious town invented by playwright Gardener McKay. Colin has never been married, has never even been with a woman.

Timothea lives in Liverpool and works for a publishing company.

They meet at the wedding of one of her Irish relatives. He makes no impression on her, but he is so struck with her that he writes a letter. She is deeply impressed by the poetry of his words.

For two years, they write back and forth. She doesn’t remember what he looks like, and they never exchange photographs, yet love blossoms through their letters.

In the opening scene, time is condensed as Colin speaks to the audience and the two of them read their letters to each other, giving the audience a privileged glimpse into their two-year courtship.

These early scenes are lovely and touching, poignant yet spiced with humor. We see Colin’s quirkiness and loneliness; we see Timothea gradually fall in love with him.

I loved the way they alternated reading the letters, switching back and forth from writer to reader. I also loved the way the fireplaces in their respective homes simultaneously separated and brought them together.

Artz’ set accentuates their differences. Her home is modest but nice. His house is painfully bare, consisting of little more than a hard chair and a chest on the floor where he stores his rain slicker and other gear. Their respective homes are delineated by a color change on the floor and an open frame placed between their houses that marks the fireplace.

They kneel down face-to-face to warm their hands while reading the letters, each in front of his or her fireplace.

Symbolically, this separates them by the open sea and by their oh-so-different histories and ways of life, and yet they are practically touching. We in the audience can see how they yearn for each other.

When they finally get together in person, there is the expected clumsiness at first. She is romantic and more aggressive in pursuing his love while he is shy and unsure. He obviously does not fit comfortably in her life and she just as obviously might never be happy living in his lonely seaside dwelling.

This is a small play with only two characters. It is not bombastic or exciting; it is poetic, sweet and realistic.

After all the glitz of the holidays, it is nice to see a simple love story set in 1971 when lovers communicated with long, hand-written letters that crossed the Irish sea rather than through truncated text messages or e-mails that instantly travel through cyberspace.

The Celtic group Thomas Miller Ceilidh Band plays in the lobby during the wedding scene and during intermission.

When: 7:55 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 1:55 p.m. Sundays through Jan. 30Where: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave. N.E., OlympiaTickets: $10-$12, available at Yenney Music Company on Harrison Avenue (360-943-7500) or 360-786-9484,

Note: For those who may be interested in this sort of thing, the title, "Words of love..." was the headline in The Olympian and the subtitle, "Review: Two person..." was the headline in The News Tribune. I mention this because readers may not know that newspaper writers seldom if  ever write their own headlines.

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