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Review Roundup: What Do The Critics Think of Tom Sturridge and Jake Gyllenhaal in SEA WALL/A LIFE?


Sea Wall

The New York premiere of Sea Wall / A LIFE officially opened last night, February 14. The show was written by Simon Stephens and Nick Payne respectively and directed by Carrie Cracknell, featuring Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge. Sea Wall / A LIFE runs through Sunday, March 31.

Sea Wall is an astonishing monologue about love and the human need to know the unknowable. A LIFE is an emotional examination of how sons become fathers and the transformative power of love.

Let's see what the critics are saying...

Jesse Green, The New York Times: Despite a shapeless green cardigan and black sweatpants, Mr. Gyllenhaal is unconvincing as a zhlub. Still, he is priceless with pressured dialogue. From a scenario that builds panic artificially, he mines surprisingly genuine humor, and eventually pathos, by focusing on Abe's avoidance rather than expression of pain. Unable to communicate real feelings directly - he keeps telling us what he should have said as if that counted - he's like a mouse in a maze of emotions, banging into walls and instantly changing course.

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: In The Public Theater's double bill Sea Wall/A Life, Tom Sturridge and Jake Gyllenhaal deliver scorching performances that can stand alongside anything on the New York stage so far this season. The pair - also currently co-starring in Netflix's Velvet Buzzsaw - might owe their fame to movies, but here again they stake their claim on the stage.

Kerensa Cadenas, EW: With two overwhelmingly Great Performances, where Sea Wall/A Life fumbles the smallest bit is really concretely tying the two halves together - the works are thematically similar and there are little bits and pieces of dialogue that, if you are paying close attention, link them together. But if you aren't (because you'll really be in your feelings by this point), the ending might fall a bit flat. All in all, though, that's a very minor complaint for an evening that will emotionally wreck you, convince you of Sturridge's acting prowess, and further consider that Gyllenhaal is one of the finest actors of his generation.

Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter: Staged in appropriately minimalist and powerful fashion by Carrie Cracknell on a mostly bare stage, the superbly acted double-bill provides a vital reminder that life is all too fleeting.

Matt Windman, amNY: The idea of bringing the monologues together ultimately is also questionable. The fact that they are so similar has the unintended effect of creating a sense of repetition and monotony following the intermission.

Also problematic is the fact that the monologues should really be performed in a more intimate setting than the proscenium-style Newman Theater (one of the larger spaces at The Public Theater). Having Sturridge and Gyllenhaal perform against a wide-open terrain proves to be unnecessarily distracting, and their unamplified voices are sometimes hard to hear.

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: 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.

Chris Jones, NY Daily News: Better yet - or worse yet - he describes your nightmare in such a way as to make you feel like this is exactly how you would experience such an event yourself. You're watching such formidable writing, action and direction that the artifice of the theater is easy to forget. No escape for the punters into any fourth wall.

Jake Nevins, The Guardian: The dual, male-fronted monologues might not be in vogue, what with our much-belated emphasis on foregrounding stories of female subjectivity. But the double feature of Sea Wall/A Life is a refreshing and moving departure from male tropes; these characters are neither heroic nor antiheroic, and they're not absent fathers, sons and husbands. In their nakedness and fragility, they reckon with the responsibilities those labels entail. And Cracknell, Sturridge and Gyllenhaal, working with emotionally precise scripts, bring two human, no-frills stories to life.

Barbara Schuler, Newsday: Director Carrie Cracknell wisely gives each actor room to simply have a conversation with the audience. Sturridge highlights his by frequent pauses and stunning moments in which he simply stares into space. Gyllenhaal is more frenetic (in a good way) as he segues between the two storylines.

David Cote, Observer: On the surface, both monologues are about what we make of grief-how we assimilate it into life without going mad-but they're really about what grief makes of us. How it re-defines our social and inner selves in irreversible ways. Alex talks matter-of-factly about the great, huge hole in his belly, a literal hole that goes through him. At the end of his 35-minute confession, we have no idea if the wound will close up or he'll bleed to death.

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