Presented by Argos Productions
by William Orem
Review by Craig Idlebrook
(Boston) Purgatory can be the hardest thing on a man, the play The Seabirds seems to suggest. It also can be very difficult on an audience. And that’s what makes a new script so deliciously maddening to watch take shape.
There are so many good elements to this play, which revolves around a Union lighthouse keeper, Laben Shadfield (David Lutheran), and a Confederate deserter, Mickey Leance (Brendan Mulhern) who are forced to share a spit of rock on the sea. Great central characters, winning snatches of dialogue and nuanced touches of historical accuracy help immerse the audience into a time when the nation was tearing itself in two.
Playwright William Orem uses the promising start seeded in his script to explore deeper themes, including the search for meaning a midst cruelty, our need for power and our doubt in the existence of God. But the script lacks clarity about which direction Orem wants to go, and the audience loses both its way and, sadly, its attachment to the characters.
This strong production bails out the script’s confusion for much of the first act, expertly leaving many questions unanswered with menacing beats that give the play the feel of a Civil War-era version of Stephen King’s Misery. Lutheran and Mulhern create believable characters whom you wouldn’t want to be stuck sitting next to on a Greyhound bus, and that makes the tension in the little lighthouse tangible. Director Jeremy Johnson sometimes overplays his hand at times by staging too much frantic action, but it’s clear he’s allowed his actors to take risks and forgo likability for believably The actors are aided by some wonderful lines in Orem’s script and the textured set created by scenic designer Matt Whiton. Whiton’s lighthouse almost appears cozy, if not for the twists and turns on either end that make the world feel like an Escher painting.
But the weight of the divergent themes eventually sinks the play in the second act, and we are left to watch the actors walk an emotional tightrope as they try and navigate the increasingly scattered plot. Orem’s script has promise, though, and it can be hoped that future productions of Seabirds will feature a sharper version of the script.