The 1971 play "Sea Marks" is a romance about a man and a woman who build a relationship through the power of the written word.
And much as fisherman Colm Primrose captures the heart of professional Timothea Stiles with his words, the play’s words captured the attention of Terence Artz, who’s directing the play, which opens tonight at Olympia Little Theatre.
“I first saw the play as a theater student in 1986,” said Artz, who directed last season’s “Murder on the Nile” for OLT. “I fell in love with the play, and I’ve had the script in my back pocket, so to speak, for the 25 years since then.
“I love the language of the play,” he said. “The young lady falls in love via the post with this young fisherman because his letters are so beautifully written. The language really does move you. Also the love story.”
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In other productions, some critics have found the play to be too predictable, and others have loved it.
“I liked how McKay didn’t go for the obvious with his plot or characters,” Gail M. Burns wrote in a review of a Massachusetts production on her theater-review blog gailsez.org. “On a couple of occasions, I thought, ‘Oh, I know where this is going.’ I was wrong. And that was nice.”
“It’s deeply charming,” Artz said. “There is a sadness to it. It touched my heart, so I hung onto it.”
That the 30-something main characters in the two-person show fall in love via letters after meeting just once is not the play’s only quirk. It seems that Colm is a fisherman who’s lived his life on a tiny island and thus is rather naive.
“He’s a man of the sea,” Artz said. “He fishes. That’s what he does. That life is so deeply ingrained in him that he really doesn’t know anything else. For him to step outside this world is a real challenge.”
But that is exactly what he does. Once the pair fall in love, he agrees to move in with the Wales-born Timothea, a relatively urbane professional living in Liverpool.
As that suggests, working with accents is an important part of the director’s job. “That’s a challenge for the actors,” Artz said. “I want to make sure they are doing good solid work in that area.”
He also is concerned about making the highly realistic piece believable. “That is my obsession as a director,” he said. “I will continually harp on my actors: ‘Do I believe what you are telling me? Do I believe that you are who you say you are?’ I have them work very hard at that.”