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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

The Old Man and the Sea
Long Wharf Theater

The Old Man in the Sea
Mateo Gomez
Performed with compassion, The Old Man and the Sea, adapted by Eric Ting and Craig Siebels from Ernest Hemingway's novella, brings all viewers, with immediacy, to ocean waters; and then to an old, Cuban fishing village. In world premiere at the Long Wharf Theatre through April 26th, the play is, at once, soulful and sweet.

It is the story of The Old Man, also known as Santiago (Mateo Gomez), and his relationship with a marlin—as each struggles, really, for individual survival. Santiago is a aging fisherman who fights as if he is in the prime of youth. He wishes that were the case. Manolin, The Boy (Rey Lucas), accompanied Santiago for years. Manolin, when he was five, began to fish with Santiago. The Boy narrates during some portions of the play and is a background figure at other times. A third character, Cienfuegos (Leajato Amara Robinson), opens the show with some lovely guitar playing and appears every so often.

Waves: one hears waves upon entering the theater. Siebels' set does not include water. An old, worn boat sits atop lovely wooden flooring—and tilts and sways, as if in the middle of the sea. Santiago, while balancing himself as the craft totters, speaks to the audience of his tussles with the mighty marlin. This is a literal, metaphorical and spiritual battle, for the man and the fish (combatants) are of the same fabric. That the fish is evidently able to drag Santiago feeds the reciprocal respect the rivals develop for one another. He kills the fish and is wildly proud of his accomplishment but has suffered, physically and emotionally through the ordeal.

The dramatic hook, in the case of this play, is not verbal. Rather, the music of the waves, as furnished by sound designers John Gromada and Ryan Rumery, becomes a conduit, transporting theater patrons to another time and place. The tone and atmosphere, too, supply texture. During the second act, the stage transforms as the boat is lifted to the ceiling and Santiago's room (within the confines of a shabby 1950s shack) is revealed. Now he revisits, while atop his bed, the war with the valiant fish.

Mateo Gomez as The Old Man fully inhabits the character by (seemingly) fusing internal and external acting approaches. He is the rugged, weathered fisherman who loves the challenge before him; he will conquer. Outwardly, Gomez demonstrates, through facial expression and full body presence, Santiago's persona. Gomez evolves, during the second portion of the play, into a man who cannot distinguish between the worlds of reality and illusion. From one moment to the next, he is an individual who is comprehending his situation but suddenly is not. He imagines himself out there, grappling with the strong, wild, beautiful creature—his foe. Gomez plays a man who instantly shifts from one self to another. The performer, his voice gruff, varies his phrasing by pushing and pulling, as he did while he and the fish were antagonists.

Ting (also directing) and Siebels are brave to adapt a memorable story, one which many recall having read as teenagers. One remembers a piece or an image and, on a certain level, wishes that snapshot to remain intact. The creative team, however, is able to create space for another genre in addition to the Hemingway fiction.

If anything, the new staged rendering is more fervent than the written story. One concludes that there is room for both forms, and this, in itself, is a tribute to the Long Wharf production.

The Old Man and the Sea continues at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven through April 26th. For ticket information, visit www.longwharf.org or call (203) 787-4282.  


Photo: T. Charles Erickson


Also see the current theatre schedule for Connecticut & Beyond

- Fred Sokol



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