BWW Review: Tina Howe's SINGING BEACH Addresses Deteriorating People and a Deteriorating Earth
Given her distinguished career that includes such significant works at PAINTING CHURCHES, COASTAL DISTURBANCES and PRIDE'S CROSSING, a new play by Tina Howe is certainly a noteworthy event.
But if there's much of value in her new drama of weathered people on a weathered planet, SINGING BEACH, it's overwhelmed by director Ari Laura Kreith's sluggish production.
The well-known poet Ashton Sleeper (Tuck Milligan), whom age and grief over his deceased wife has reduced to a non-communicative state, spends his days being cared for by a nurse (Naren Weiss) at his Massachusetts beachfront home while his novelist daughter Merrie (Erin Beirnard) and her literary scholar second husband Owen (John P. Keller) debate taking him in themselves or sending him to "the gold standard of assisted living facilities."
Whatever their decision, he can't stay where he is long. The play is set in the near future, where temperatures of over 100 degrees are common, and category 4 Hurricane Cassandra is about to hit land.
Also along are Merrie's children from her first marriage. Though only twelve, snarky and self-involved Tyler (Jackson Demott Hill) is apparently precocious enough to randomly quote Shakespeare and wisecrack about substandard merlot.
A great bulk of the 75-minute play is centered on ten-year-old Piper, played by young Elodie Lucinda Morss. As the hurricane comes closer, Piper imagines herself and grandpa escaping on a luxury cruise ship, where her brother is now a lovable stowaway and mom is a brilliant science teacher who educates on the dangers of global warming.
The back and forth between real life and Piper's fantasies equates the decisions Merrie and Owen must make about the deteriorating Ashton with those this generation must make about our deteriorating planet.
But while SINGING BEACH's message is an urgent one, the slow-moving production rarely displays an emotional backbone, and requiring a child actor to carry the weight of the drama is a risk that, through no fault of Morss, doesn't pay off.
And while poor sightlines aren't uncommon Off-Off Broadway, Kreith often pushes the actors so far downstage that, with the arena-style seating, a tall person anywhere in front of you could block your view of the actors.