Eve & Lilith: Adam’s Temptation
The Midtown International Theatre Festival
There’s more than a hint of salt water to the romances presented in Seal Songs, Jennifer Fell Hayes’s pair of related plays at the Midtown International Theatre Festival. In the plays, set 30 years apart in the same cottage on the coast of Northern England, someone who’s historically been entranced only by the sea finds solace in an actual person whose presence is temporary - but who nonetheless inspires long-lasting effects.
The earlier of the play’s chronologically, “Deep Water,” examines this idea through recognizable concepts and emotions. The house’s owner, a middle-aged woman named Nora (Katie Atcheson), is still trying to adjust to her mother’s recent death. Her only contact of late has been with the ocean, and the seal she’s positive she’s seen in its depths when she’s gone out swimming each morning. When she calls a local handyman, Alan (Richard Kent Green), to install a picture window so she may better see the water, it doesn’t take them long to discover a shared love for Beethoven and each other.
Though things are destined to proceed along a very rocky course, there’s a warmth about Nora’s gentle reacquaintance with the world that makes the couple’s offhand courtship a sweet subject for a half-hour one-act. Green is appealingly rustic, with just a dash of goodhearted cluelessness. But Nora’s infatuation with the sea and its mystical denizens infuses every pore of Atcheson’s intensely detailed performance - she blurs all lines between her own hope and despair and that she feels for the ocean, gracefully underscoring Nora’s mounting problems. Atcheson even imagines Nora’s laugh as one she may have learned from seals - a giddily surprising touch.
Unfortunately, the second play, “Overboard,” lives up to its title, sends all of its predecessor’s subtlety straight to Davy Jones’ Locker. Peter, Alan’s grandson, uses Nora’s house as his refuge during his separation from his wife, and rescues from drowning a woman he notices one night in the waves. Barely able to walk, talk, or comprehend a nonaquatic life, and inclined to balance radishes on her nose, she nevertheless manages to teach him about... oh, forget it. There’s no mystery to the woman’s identity or her role, and her explicit characterization overinflates the story’s fanciful leanings in a violent and almost entirely ineffective way. Even the actors thrash about, Green too old and hard for his role, and Atcheson too landlocked and not vivacious enough for hers.
Hayes acknowledges the two works’ disconnect in a program note, writing that “Deep Water” was based on events from her own life (and originally presented in another festival last year) and “Overboard” was “made to measure as opposed to springing out of inspiration.” Despite the fine attempts of the actors and director Kathy Gail MacGowan, that’s quite obvious. “Deep Water” has a real humanity that deserves to be explored and savored over a longer period of time; “Overboard” feels waterlogged after 10 minutes. Nora and Peter both learn that part of the challenge of swimming is discovering how far you can go out and still be able to come back - Seal Songs will be better when Hayes learns that same lesson.
Eve & Lilith: Adam’s Temptation
It’s telling that when you enter the theater for Eve & Lilith: Adam’s Temptation, you’re handed a brochure for playwright-director Johannes Galli’s theatre school instead of a program. But even if you weren’t, it wouldn’t take long to identify this wayward meditation on warring visions of womanhood, between “First Man’s first wife” and Adam’s “second wife and better half,” as an educational exercise rather than a theatrical one.
From the moment beige-swathed Eve Binder (Tatjana Maya) - the action has been updated to the generic present - enters the bordello-like receiving room of Lilith Moonbeck (Tricia Patrick), who’s barely clad in a clingy red negligee, it seems clear how events will play out. And Galli delivers. Eve waxes rhapsodic about the values of marriage, but has trouble spitting out the M word; Lilith complains that she owns Adam in the bedroom, but longs to be seen on his arm in public. All they must do is recognize the value of each other. After one plodding hour, they do, and the play ends.
In between, there’s little discussion of consequence (Eve: “I have the strength of my fidelity!’ Lilith: “Please, from lack of choice”), and even less compelling character work. Maya makes Eve nothing more than a cookie-cutter businesswoman, and spends so much time trying to twist Galli’s unwieldy lines around a heavy accent (presumably her own) that every line sounds like a flub. Patrick never convincingly owns desire, instead playing a vague sauciness that never congeals into what should be the spirit of eroticism. When the two switch outfits in the play’s waning minutes, neither evinces a charge of emotional realization; these are contemporary actresses wearing costumes, not elaborately archetypal women swapping skins for the sake of galactic unity.
The play finds its footing only once, when Eve dreams that she and Lilith meet amid the ancient legends from which the concept of Lilith as a demon of death and disorder originally sprang. As the pair muses on the roles they’ve played in history, of both the Earth and of Adam as an individual, wisps of the epic possibilities of the connections between this duo start forming around the edges of this typically pedestrian play. You sense from their encounter on mythical, rather than practical, terms that all-out war between these two would be riveting. Eve & Lilith: Adam’s Temptation is too sedate to even reach the status of cat fight.
Eve and Lilith -- Adam's Temptation