A young man pulls a young woman out of the ocean and brings her back to his rundown Provincetown beach house. He says she was drowning; she says she was dancing. From the get-go, romantic sparks seem to be flying between them.  Their repartee recalls those screwball comedies of the 1930s, but the year is 1975 and there are hints that the young woman’s playfully argumentative nature hides a darker side. There’s also the engagement ring she finds hidden in a desk drawer that suggests that the young man too may carry emotional baggage. 

Meet Ben and Tracy, the hero and heroine of Seascape With Shark And Dancer, Don Nigro’s unconventional romance, now playing at Studio/Stage. First-rate performances by Matthew Hannon and Christine Weatherup and a fresh directorial take on this regional theater favorite make for an entertaining and touching production.

Director Benjamin Haber Kamine has wisely opted to keep the mood light and flirtatious from the start, the better to help us see and feel the instant attraction between rescuer and rescuee. On paper, Tracy may come across as merely irritating in her refusal to tell Ben her name, her misuse of the English language (she calls marshmallows “mushrunes”), and her general cantankerousness.  On stage, Weatherup and Hannon have such natural chemistry that we immediately buy their attraction.  The actress is simply too darn cute and the actor too darn sincere for the audience to find themselves anywhere other than on both their sides, even when things get serious in the second act with Tracy doing everything in her power to push Ben away.

The Bianca Chen/Hannon-produced production is a prime example of just how much fine work is being done “under the radar” in 99-seat Los Angeles theater. Running mostly on off-nights and put together by two trained, experienced young actors looking to move beyond acting class scene study, this midweek production can stand up very nicely indeed against higher budget, bigger name weekend shows.

Weatherup and Hannon give such real, spontaneous performances that you may find yourself forgetting that you are watching actors.  No matter how rapid-fire the dialog, neither performer ever appears to be waiting for a cue.  Physically and vocally, they are a terrific, opposites-attract match. Weatherup has the sparkle of a classic stage comedienne and Hannon says as much with his eyes as he does with his deep, resonant voice. On paper, one might wonder why Ben puts up with Tracy.  Performances here make it a no-brainer. He simply adores her, and has from the moment he dragged her from the waves.

Matthew Brian Denman’s lighting is particularly fine, reflecting the various times of day and night and subtly underscoring scenes. Scenic designer/props master Geronimo Guzman has created a simple but believable Cape Cod beach house with appropriately mid-70s stereo set and typewriter.  Make Believe, Inc.’s costumes and Kamine’s sound design complete the 70s mood with a bit of polyester and snatches of Cat Stevens and Jim Croce.

Seascapes With Sharks And Dancers makes for a quirky, fast-paced ninety minutes of romance, comedy, and a dollop of drama thrown in for good measure.  I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Studio/Stage, 520 North Western Ave., Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
January 28, 2010

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