"The Old Man and the Sea"
Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven
Though “The Old Man and the Sea,” now at Long Wharf Theatre, has its positive elements, it simply does not work as a staged piece.
On the plus side are performances (particularly that of Rey Lucas, as the Old Man’s young follower), and the opening act’s spectacular set design (courtesy of director Eric Ting and set designer Craig Siebels). We are at sea, far out to sea, off the coast of Cuba, and the old fisherman rocks back and forth precariously in his small boat. The team achieves this stunning effect without spreading a drop of water on stage.
Ting and Siebels, who are also responsible for this adaptation of the Ernest Hemingway novella, have attempted to turn it into high drama. But the truth is that Hemingway’s beautifully written piece of a man’s struggle with primal nature is best left on the printed page, there to make its powerful impact on the reader. As a written piece, character development takes precedence over plot development—and Hemingway takes one into the very heart of the his two antagonists—namely, the Old Man and also the Sea. But once translated into a play, another ingredient is required, namely, a plot which moves forward with dramatic urgency. This, alas, is sadly missing.
The result is that the Old Man’s interminable struggle with a huge fish grows boring. How many times can one watch the actor pull back his fishing line and cackle with satisfaction? Mateo Gomez’s portrayal of the character grows monotonous. Could he have added depth and variety to the portrayal, despite the play’s limitations, showing more of the Old Man’s inner struggle and growing decrepitude?
On the other hand, Rey Lucas as the Boy gives a fresh, eager and thoroughly believable performance. In his tender care of the old fisherman, whom he worships, his interaction with his mentor lifts the play to another level.
A third—and most valuable--member of the cast is Leajato Amara Robinson, who provides the Cuban mood music, and steps in and out of character in the play. Moreover, John Gromada’s original music and sound design and Michael Chybowski’s lighting heightens the mood critically.
But such heroic efforts with set, performance, music and mood do not save the sinking ship. Like the Old Man’s giant fish, it is lost at sea.
-- Irene Backalenick
Apr. 10, 2009