Review Roundup: Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge Star In SEA WALL/A LIFE - See What The Critics Are Saying!
Written by Tony Award winner Simon Stephens and Olivier Award nominee Nick Payne and directed by Carrie Cracknell, the acclaimed production comes to Broadway following its sold-out engagement at The Public Theater this past spring where it had audiences roaring to their feet.
Meet Alex, a photographer on a holiday with his family in the south of France. Meet Abe, a music producer with a baby on the way. Two men - both fathers, husbands, and sons - take us on a journey you will never forget.
Sea Wall / A Life is a heart-filled exploration of the beauty of life and meaning of love. Sturridge, in his third collaboration with Tony and Olivier Award winner Simon Stephens, performs Sea Wall, an astonishing monologue about love and the human need to know the unknowable. Gyllenhaal continues his artistic collaboration with Olivier Award nominated playwright Nick Payne in A Life, an emotional examination of how sons become fathers and the transformative power of love. Together, under the direction of Carrie Cracknell, Sea Wall / A Life is a must-see evening of dramatic storytelling at its best.
Let's see what the critics are saying!
Laura Collins-Hughes, The New York Times: Directed by Carrie Cracknell, "Sea Wall/A Life" - a hit downtown early this year, at the Public Theater - is the most stripped-down storytelling on Broadway right now. The quiet spectacle these plays offer is in the acting of tragicomedies of love and loss, young men's stories about fatherhood and family, and about the hole that grief can blast right through a person's center.
Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: "I thought it was a gradual slope," Alex explains, while describing his first scuba diving experience, unprepared for the sight of how the ocean's floor just suddenly drops down hundreds of feet. That sudden, terrifying shift is an apt bit of symbolism for the first of two extraordinarily touching and achingly human monologues that comprise Sea Wall / A Life, a beautifully acted double-bill directed with delicate sensitivity by Carrie Cracknell.
Robert Hofler, TheWrap: Nick Payne and Simon Stephens do their respective one-act monologues no favors by putting them together on a double bill. Even the starry solo turns of Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge can't relieve the monotony of seeing Stephens' "Sea Wall" and Payne's "A Life" back to back with an intermission.
Barbara Schuler, Newsday: Payne is better at the non sequiturs than Stephens. Then again, the design here is more obvious: Abe (Gyllenhaal) scrambles stories about the death of his father and the birth of his daughter. Unlike Sturridge, Gyllenhaal segues seamlessly, and sometimes he's talking about Dad before we realize he's finished with the wife and baby. It's an effectively sentimental play, and Payne isn't above throwing in John Lennon's "Imagine" to give the heartstrings a good workout. It's also a deeply naive play. Only a playwright under the age of 40 would tell us that we plan for birth but we don't plan for death.
David Cote, Observer: That world is on delicate display in Sea Wall/A Life, two monologues that were originally paired at the Public Theater this past winter. Now it has opened on Broadway at the handsome Hudson Theatre, with its moody design and appealing leading men intact. I reviewed Carrie Cracknell's mostly satisfying production downtown, and a second viewing only slightly budged my positive conclusion.
Christian Lewis, Medium: On the basic level, it is different because this time we get two: two short plays, two different actors, two stories. Together they make a fascinating pairing that is equally captivating and devastating. Although they may not share any direct overlap, both stories explore themes of family, love, fatherhood, death, loss, and grief. They are Greek tragedies for the modern age, full of pathos and heart-wrenching prose.
Kerensa Cadenas, Entertainment Weekly: It's a perfect beginning to the pair of monologues that make up the Off Broadway production of Sea Wall/A Life, a very intimate night of theater from director Carrie Cracknell, who previously brought A Doll's House to the stage in London's West End and at Brooklyn's BAM. Cracknell keeps everything so small to the point that brushing up near one of the actors isn't too far out of the realm of possibility. Sturridge (Starz's Sweetbitter) and Jake Gyllenhaal, who most recently costarred in Netflix's Velvet Buzzsaw, both are paired up with playwrights with whom they've collaborated many times before.
Roma Torre, NY1: The two one act plays in the double bill entitled "Sea Wall/A Life" are, on the surface, very small works. But they concern some very big themes: life, death, birth. Even so, the idea of a show featuring a pair of monologues on a mostly bare stage will likely turn some people off. Certainly true in lesser hands, but this is a beautifully intimate production featuring performances so sharply focused, anything more would be a distraction.
Peter Marks, The Washington Post:The hallmark of a truly inspired stage actor may not be what he or she does with outstanding material, but what they can accomplish with the run-of-the-mill stuff. By that measure, a sustained ovation is due Jake Gyllenhaal for his yeoman work in "Sea Wall/A Life," a pair of rather humdrum monologues by British playwrights Simon Stephens and Nick Payne that made it to Broadway - chiefly, it appears, because the popular Gyllenhaal is in one of them.
Matt Windman, amNY: Both performances have become more focused and effective since the Off-Broadway run. Haunted and hurt, Sturridge gently relives a traumatizing experience as if participating in a group-therapy session. On the other hand, Gyllenhaal gets to have more fun and be far more energetic, at various points even running through the audience and playing bits of John Lennon's "Imagine" on a piano. The lean production (directed by Carrie Cracknell, who has extensive London credits) hearkens back to the most basic elements of narrative storytelling and sharing of life experiences. And as in Greek tragedy, it produces a genuine sense of catharsis for audience members.
Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: As its two stars and title suggests, this is a production of dualities, and so the question of who does it better may depend on how you respond to either of these men and their stories.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: But in the context of these monologues, a word like "delight" must be taken with caution. There's pleasure to be had at the sound of pretty prose, and it's a joy to watch two fine actors perform in flawless character. But it might take a couple of stiff drinks to get the ashen taste of death out of your mouth.
Greg Evans, Deadline: When I reviewed the production in February during its Public Theatre engagement, I was struck by the emotional impact of the performances, the writing and Carrie Cracknell's direction. All of that stands, but seeing it again, this time in the larger Broadway venue, I noticed the many moments of humor that Gyllenhaal and Sturridge pull off so efficiently. Gyllenhaal, in particular, seems to have loosened up a bit in his role, superbly providing quicksilver shifts in tone and mood. Sturridge, in the more unrelenting Sea Wall, couldn't get any better than he was Off Broadway. Assuming the show's producers invite Tony voters to this strictly limited nine-week engagement, either actor could stake an early claim on next year's trophy nominations.
Adam Feldman, Time Out NY: At one point in Sea Wall, Alex refers to the cruelest thing he ever said; in A Life, Abe mentions the kindest thing anyone ever said to him. The difference between these two moments-the mystery and pain of the first, the sheer banality of the second-is the difference between the two components of this uneven evening.
David Finkle, New York Stage Review: Luke Halls provides a late projection subtly implying that Alex and Abe are stand-ins for any number of men everywhere trying to make sense of life as we live it and only having the flimsiest success in their daily groping. That finale lifts a already exceptional production to an even higher plane.
Elysa Gardner, New York Stage Review: Yet tragedy is not what defines Sea Wall, or A Life, penned by another acclaimed British playwright, Nick Payne (Constellations, If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet) and starring another film and stage star known to collaborate with him, Jake Gyllenhaal. Under the fierce, tender direction of Carrie Cracknell-also a Brit, who won praise here several years back for her London-based staging of A Doll's House at BAM-the plays attest to our essential will to live and love, despite the challenges these pursuits continually throw at us.
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