New York City Theater
"On the Shore of the Wide World"
Linda Gross Theater
It takes time to get acclimated to the dialects in “On the Shore of the Wide World,” yet the effort is only intermittently worthwhile in this Atlantic Theater Company production. The play by Simon Stephens (who wrote the Tony-winning “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” and the absorbing “Heisenberg”) is less an incisive family drama in the style of “August: Osage County” and more a soapie like “One Life to Live.”
Still, the second act’s cohesiveness is a blessing, culminating in a stunning scene of poetic beauty and twilight longing between a wife and husband in which they come to terms with their frustrations and yearnings. The more poetic part was undoubtedly inspired by John Keats from whose’ “When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be” giives Stephens his title.
Taking place in Stockport, England, a suburb of Manchester, and in London, the work is a search for meaning, told through the travails of the Holmes family. Mother and father have their quarrels, one son has a kooky girlfriend, the other son is over--inquisitive, granddad is endangering his health, grandma is long-suffering, another couple dallies with adultery. Disease and death shroud events. Even relatives have trouble finding connections. “We’re all of us cowards,” says granddad. “All of us.”
The play’s diffusiveness, its chopping up the action into little pieces, while annoying, may be the point for characters looking to unite. Having a cup of tea substitutes for genuine feelings, as just being alive beats actual coming together.
But the lack of sustainability undoes whatever empathy we may feel. Neil Pepe’s lackadaisical direction doesn’t enliven the two-and-a-half-hour proceedings, but he’s evoked fine performances from an extraordinary cast.
As Peter and Alice Holmes, the confused parents, C.J. Wilson and Mary McCann are fretful and sympathetic in their search to rekindle their love, while, as Peter’s parents, Peter Maloney and Blair Brown are wry and knowing. Playing young, lost souls, Ben Rosenfield, Tedra Millan, Wesley Zurick, Amelia Workman, Odiseas Georgiadis and especially, LeRoy McClain as a seductive, kindly neighbor are all distinctive.
Moody is the word for Scott Pask’s sets, Christopher Akerlind’s lighting, Sarah Laux’s costumes and David Van Tieghem’s original music and sound. They lift the evening, but “On the Shore” remains earthbound.
--David A. Rosenberg
Sept. 21, 2017