BWW Review: Benjamin Evett Makes a Big Splash With ALBATROSS at Gloucester Stage Company
Written by Matthew Spangler and Benjamin Evett, Inspired by The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Commissioned by Michael Seiden; Directed by Rick Lombardo; Lighting & Projection Design, Garrett Herzig; Sound Design, Rick Lombardo; Costume Design, Frances Nelson McSherry; Set Design, Cristina Todesco; Stage Manager, Leslie Sears
Featuring: Benjamin Evett
Performances through July 3 at Gloucester Stage Company, 267 East Main Street, Gloucester, MA; Box Office 978-281-4433 or www.gloucesterstage.com
Benjamin Evett makes a big splash in his Gloucester Stage Company debut, recreating his 2015 Elliot Norton Award-winning solo performance of The Mariner in Albatross, co-written by Evett and Matthew Spangler. Inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Albatross brings the story into the present day, while maintaining the themes of the original epic poem about one man's doomed journey at sea. Rick Lombardo directs, as he did for the show's premiere at The Poets' Theater in Boston, and GSC Artistic Director Robert Walsh announced that Albatross will fly across the pond to The Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August and reappear Off-Broadway next January.
Although there is some debate within the play as to whether the title "character" brings good luck or bad to the seamen on the Ancient Mariner's ship, this Albatross has undoubtedly brought good fortune to Evett. The acclaim he has received is richly deserved, certainly for his and Spangler's accessible adaptation, but especially for his tour de force performance. Simply put, Evett stands before us as a likable storyteller, and he becomes the crusty Mariner as the protagonist of the story. While he sets up the tale, Evett maneuvers around the stage, hooking up ropes to sheets which eventually become a backdrop for projections. He appears scruffy with a growth of stubble and is dressed by costume designer Frances Nelson McSherry in well-worn, somewhat tattered clothing, including a heavy navy peacoat and fingerless gloves. When the journey arrives at a point where there is unbearable, scorching heat, layers of clothing are removed, leaving Evett barefoot and bare chested in long johns. In concert with this, he sheds the outer layers of his character, crawling deeper into the core and suffering of this man to find his essence and share it with us.
Lombardo wisely employs minimal design elements, allowing the focus to be on the actor and the story. Cristina Todesco's set includes a ladder, a seaman's trunk, the aforementioned battered sheets, and heavy ropes suspended from overhead, suggesting the rigging on a schooner. Garret Herzig's projections enable us to experience a pub, a black and stormy sea, and snow falling on frozen waters. Lombardo's sound design and Herzig's lighting design bring authenticity to a fiery battle between two ships, and create a variety of changing conditions of day, night, hot, cold, storm, and calm. At each juncture, their work provides the appropriate canvas for Evett to artfully apply the broad brushstrokes of his characterization, crafting perfect synergy between the technical and the creative aspects of the production.
The Mariner's journey is harrowing, and so it is for the actor in the role. By the end of the play, the physical and emotional toll shows as Evett takes his bows. He gives his all in this challenging solo performance. For the audience, there is added resonance in seeing Albatross at the Gloucester Stage Company. One hopes that the salt air is an elixir that will sustain the spirit that we witnessed on opening night.
Photo Credit: Kippy Goldfarb/Carolle Photography (Benjamin Evett, The Mariner)