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By the Sea, by the Sea, by the Beautiful Sea
Vortex Theatre



In the new Vortex Theater production of By the Sea, by the Sea, by the Beautiful Sea, two women and a man meet on a beach beside the ocean. Different characters do it three times, in three one-act plays, but in one way or another, they are all figuratively at sea. The characters alternately cuddle and curse, flirt and fantasize on their way to self-discovery.

The evening is an unusual one. The Vortex has recruited three novice directors (all of whom, however, have a substantial measure of acting experience) and three young actors to tell these stories.

The same actors appear in all three plays. The roles showcase the abilities of Hannah Colver, Francesca Tharpe and Michael Weppler to immerse themselves in starkly contrasting roles. Weppler, for example, plays a straight-laced, immaculately suited, self-conscious businessman; a modest working stiff; and an arrogant, sex-obsessed hunk—all with equal facility and conviction.

The play also gives three actors a chance to direct: Paul Hunton handles Dawn by Joe Pintauro; Jennifer Loli takes on Day by Lanford Wilson; and Isaac Christie directs Dusk by Terrence McNally.

Set designers Leslee Richards and Mary Rossman have put together a single functional set that well serves all three plays. The simple set consists of sand, a short boardwalk, and, in the foreground, a painted turquoise strip suggesting the bordering Atlantic Ocean.

The cast could have used a bit more help with makeup and costumes. The characters are a decade or two older than the actors, and makeup could help bridge the difference. In addition, the full street dress of the actors (with the exception of Weppler for a few moments in the third play), rather than swimsuits, strikes a strange note in beach scenes where, for example, one character complains of the heat and another takes a swim.

While cast, directors, production team and actors have done themselves proud, I felt that the Vortex had made unfortunate compromises in choosing the texts. The brief plays are not especially well written, lack dramatic focus, and fail to supply engaging characters or strong climaxes. I was never really able to identify fully with any of the nine characters in the three plays, a fault for which I do not hold the actors responsible.

One-act plays are frequently regarded as an easy gateway to full theatrical production, but they are no way as easy as they look. In fact, they are probably harder to write and perform than full-length plays. In a highly compressed amount of time, characters must be backgrounded and made believable, and dramatic conflict created and resolved. The performance has to move swiftly toward an explosion, a confrontation or an exposure that is really what the play is all about—not how a character changes but how his or her truth is suddenly bared.

Finding three plays each utilizing the same three actors and the same set around the same theme of an encounter on a beach is not easy, and thus the compromises are readily understandable.

In any case, in this trio of plays, the Vortex has performed a fine service in giving new directorial talents a chance to try their wings. And when all is said and done, they do fly.

By the Sea, by the Sea, by the Beautiful Sea runs through January 26 at Vortex Theatre. For tickets call 505-247-8600 or go to vortexabq.org.

--Wally Gordon



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