Saturday, September 28, 2019

Sea Wall/A Life (Broadway)

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Alex (Tom Sturridge) is a photographer who recounts his vacation with the family in southern France where a sea wall forms a part of the scenery and where they find joy and loss in the sea. However, what starts off as fun ends in a tragedy. Abe (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a musical producer and is about to become a father. He soon realizes that his keen attention to detail will not help him that much on his way to fatherhood. He is also shocked by the news of his father’s worsening condition, and must now deal with conflicting emotions of saying goodbye to a life all while welcoming a new one. Two men. Two monologues. Two tales of love and loss. Two stories of death and life. This is Sea Wall/A Life.

The play is basically two long monologues from two guys who never meet or interact. The style makes you feel like you are watching a stand up comedy routine, which is true to some extent because both Gyllenhaal and Sturridge have a few punchlines up their sleeves. This is more of a drama, though, because of the sad stories that they tell. So perhaps “stand up dramedy” is the more appropriate term? It’s easy to lose track of what they are talking about because of the kilometric lines. The material is definitely not for anyone with a short attention span.

It kind of feels like verbal diarrhea sometimes. It does not help that both of them talk about two things at the same time. Such exposition is perhaps just the style the material chooses to cover more ground and to be more artistic, but it can be confusing. At least for Gyllenhaal you can still distinguish which is which because he has this tendency of changing the pitch of his voice. Sturridge doesn’t, and the British accent throws you off the track, too. Kudos for the attempt, though. Monologues are hard to pull off especially when they are almost an hour long. How the heck do you memorize all those words?

Gyllenhaal’s monologue seems more interesting, though, perhaps because of the contrast it presents. On one hand you have a guy who is about to be a father. One can only imagine how exciting and terrifying that could be. It’s all anticipation. On the other hand you also have the subplot of his father’s impending death. With these two contrasting storylines given almost simultaneously, what you get is an overwhelming narration that proves to be a rollercoaster ride of emotions.

This is the type of play that can easily be adapted by local theaters because the success of the material depends on its actors. Get someone with enough charisma and a knack for storytelling and you are good to go. The set is minimal with just a brick wall, a ladder, and a piano that is not used until the last two or three minutes of the second half. Oh, and a spotlight too. Since the two actors don’t even interact, their materials can easily be rehearsed separately.

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