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Coastal Disturbances (03/04/1987 - 01/03/1988)


New York Daily News: "Shore Sounds Like Fun"

"Coastal Disturbances" opened Off-Broadway at the Second Stage November 19, 1986. It moved to the Circle in the Square March 4, 1987.

Set on a Cape Cod beach in the weeks before Labor Day, that anxious time before people must return to "real life." "Coastal Disturbances" is like a set of bright, vividly drawn watercolors. You want something more solid to hang in the living room, but you will gladly put these in the den, where they will bring back very special memories.

Unlike many of the characters to whom one is subjected these days in the theater, Tina Howe's are wonderfully civilized. They have sharp imaginations and great spirit.

It seems characteristic for one of her women, trying to imagine the beach as it existed centuries before her family's arrival, to observe, "That's funny, you never picture Indians at the beach...squaws sunning themselves on Navajo blankets."

Even the woman for whom Howe clearly has the least sympathy, a divorcee whose hatred of men makes her unreasonably touchy, is given a warm moment when she tells her spoiled son something she herself appears to have forgotten, "Spirit counts for everything in this world."

However ingratiating most of the characters are, "Coastal" does not seem a fully fleshed-out play. Its major action is a shortlived and funny affair between a very confused young photographer (a difficult role played with surprising appeal and grace by Annette Bening) and a handsome, aimless but impetuous lifeguard (perfectly played by the enormously winning Timothy Daly).

The affair ends when her phony patron and lover (acted by Ronald Guttman with suitably repellent charm) comes to claim her.

Around this little drama float amusing vignettes - Heather MacRae as a bubbly expectant mother, Joanne Camp as the astringent man-hater, Rosemary Murphy and Addison Powell as a thoroughly engaging older couple - that provide little more than "local color."

Scenes end abruptly. At times, the characters, especially the children, become hysterical, presumably to create the feeling that something is happening. It's as if a high decibel level is compensation for lack of action. Even Carole Rothman's sensitive, inventive direction cannot hide the script's contrivances.

But together Howe and Rothman create a marvelous sense of the special freedom of summer at the beach. Characters fairly tumble over one another in confusion, nervousness and sheer love.

WASPish as this world may be, its laws of gravity come from the artist Marc Chagall, in whose pictures kissing lovers overcome all conventional notions of space.

At her best, Howe creates an effervescent, beguiling world - as in a delicious scene where the photographer babbles giddily while her lover covers her passionately with sand.

Set designer Tony Straiges conjures a beach quite brilliantly on the small stage (cannily lit by Dennis Parichy.) Susan Hilferty's simple costumes define the people adroitly.

If the play is not completely satisfying it is entertaining and, most important, honest. Nowadays that makes it quite rare.

New York Daily News

New York Post: "A gem of truth in flimsy fabric"

"Coastal Disturbances" opened Off-Broadway at the Second Stage November 19, 1986. It moved to the Circle in the Square March 4, 1987.

Tina Howe is clearly a playwright of sensibility rather than statement. In "Coastal Disturbances," which opened last night at the Second Stage (2162 Broadway at 76th St.), she has given us a tender, overwrought, yet recognizably honest short story - in legitimate dramatic form - about love.

Love on a beach. At the end of a hot hazy summer. Love in different guises. Love that is happy, love that is exciting, love that is simply contented.

Nothing much happens. No one dies of a broken heart, is drowned at sea, or even eaten by an inquisitive shark. Feelings are noted and explored.

Holly is a young New York photographer escaping to the Massachusetts beach of her childhood, running from a crazy, New York-style affair: a mixture of chic, charisma, and chemistry called Andre, who owns a gallery.

She meets Leo, an uncomplicated hunk of a lifeguard full of muscles, gentleness and the poetry of living.

Andre - what else? - comes to reclaim her. What to do? Andre makes her feel alive. Leo only makes her feel happy.

Meanwhile, as a mild subplot on the same sandy strip, there are the septuagenarian Adamses bickering about this and that - chiefly about his unending minor infidelities - but, after nine children and a long life, reasonably cheerful.

Two other women and their obstreperous children make up the other pebbles without which no beach could be complete, but the essence of the play is Holly and her summer triangle.

It is a lazy play, but lazy in mood rather than functioning. Howe's description of two types of love in a warm climate are delicately observed, and brilliantly presented.

The contrast between the two men - the playwright adroitly avoids making Andre the shallow poseur that Leo envisages - is beautifully done, and both their major love scenes with Holly are unaffectedly persuasive.

The contrast with the others seems more strained, but a seemingly irrelevant scene with a beached whale produces an outburst from Leo about man and nature which, oddly enough, is conceivably the best thing in a play that never is less than seismographically sensitive.

Carole Rothman has directed "Coastal Disturbances" with just the right quiet balance; her groupings against the subtle sandscape, designed by Tony Straiges and lit by Dennis Parichy, have a pictorial scope well in keeping with the leisurely nature of the play.

And the performances are lovely. Annette Bening as Holly is a San Francisco actress making her local debut, and it is delightful, silly, romantic, yet convincing.

As the two men, Timothy Daly as Leo has to start with a narcissistic display of calisthenics and then transform our initial concept of him as a musclebound beach bum into the playwright's view of him as the natural man - and he does it with much subtlety.

Equally winning is Ronald Guttman as Andre - making the entrepreneurial conman into the kind of sensuous, sensory magician that indeed Holly could reasonably love.

In "Coastal Disturbances," Tina Howe has written the kind of play that hardly disturbs, yet has within its flimsy fabric a gem of truth. That is ample enough.

New York Post

New York Times: "From Tina Howe, 'Coastal Disturbances'"

"Coastal Disturbances" opened Off-Broadway at the Second Stage November 19, 1986. It moved to the Circle in the Square March 4, 1987.

In his brilliant lighting for Tina Howe's new play, ''Coastal Disturbances,'' the designer Dennis Parichy has captured the entire spectrum of weather known to habitues of New England beaches in August. Mr. Parichy graces the horizon of Tony Straiges's sand-carpeted set not merely with the blinding sunniness of midday but also with the frail pink cumulus clouds of dusk, the chilly mica silver of a lost rainy afternoon and the pale, smoky blue of a foggy dawn. Not that a catalogue of colors tells the whole story. What lifts Mr. Parichy's work beyond decoration and into poetry is his ability to unfurl the transitory sky that hasn't yet determined what's going to be. It's that blank canvas of heaven, pregnant with the volatile possibilities of precipitous change, that gives the beach its true romance.

Mr. Parichy's art is worth talking about in its own right, but also because it so aptly reflects the quality of Ms. Howe's play, her first since ''Painting Churches.'' In ''Coastal Disturbances,'' now at the Second Stage, the weather above is inevitably a metaphor for human frissons below. And, some Act II erosion aside, Ms. Howe has kept up her end of the bargain with the same watercolor delicacy of Mr. Parichy's lighting. The people in ''Coastal Disturbances,'' four generations' worth of vacationers on a private Massachusetts beach, are always welling up with exhilaration or lust or love or anger whenever one least expects. As written by Ms. Howe and acted by one of the finer casts in New York, the emotional cloudbursts, no less than the meteorological, can take the breath away.

A modern play about love that is, for once, actually about love - as opposed to sexual, social or marital politics - ''Coastal Disturbances'' usually just lets its disturbances happen. A heretofore chipper divorced woman named Ariel (Joanne Camp) starts to chew out her young son and suddenly loses self-control, flying past boiling point to violent rage. Ariel's old Wellesley roommate, the pregnant Faith (Heather MacRae), gossips merrily once too often about the beach's ''well-endowed'' lifeguard, Leo (Timothy Daly), and finds herself breaking into uncontrollable, sidesplitting laughter. The play's heroine, a photographer named Holly Dancer (Annette Bening), tells the lifeguard a phantasmagoric fantasy about an orgiastic all-night party of well-heeled, anthropomorphized dolphins, and, as she does so, Leo can't resist the frantic urge to bury the dream-dizzied Holly in the sand.

These incidents are, respectively, aching, hilarious and erotic. In each of them Ms. Howe takes a specific character's concern - the battle-scarred Ariel's hatred of men, Faith's ecstatic anticipation of motherhood, Holly's and Leo's growing sexual attraction - and distills it into a concentrate of intoxicating feeling. Yet, like Holly, who is seeking a ''wider focus'' in her photographs and life, the playwright wants to examine love from all the additional points of view she can find.

An older couple, played by Rosemary Murphy and Addison Powell, provide the perspective of age: having survived nine children, decades of marriage and infidelities, they now can see that younger people are ''always losing things'' that they at last have found. At the other end of the cycle are Ariel's son, Winston (Jonas Abry), and Faith's adopted daughter, Miranda (Rachel Mathieu) -kids already parroting both the ''kissy'' and tragically self-destructive behavior of adults. Ms. Howe even takes into account generations to come. Transcendentally obsessed with the ''biological chain,'' Faith reminds us that a girl is ''born with all her eggs'' and tells of how she used to shake Miranda to hear them rolling about.

Ms. Howe's vignettes are brief and pointedly impressionistic - in the style of the young painter who kept trying to find the right angle on her parents' portrait in ''Painting Churches.'' In ''Coastal Disturbances,'' Ms. Murphy, who could be the Brahmin mother in the previous play, paints tightly composed, realistic beach scapes. ''Hold still!,'' she complains as the scene before her shifts. ''Why does everything have to keep moving?'' Ms. Howe understands that everything must keep moving, that there is no ''right'' angle, that love and its responsibilities are something to ''figure out as you go along.'' Not for nothing is Ms. Murphy reading Quentin Bell's biography of Virginia Woolf on the beach. Ms. Howe, who shares with Woolf what one character calls ''the transforming eye of the artist,'' sees all her people, the men included, in the funny, sexy and finally forgiving round.

Carole Rothman, who also directed ''Painting Churches,'' is unfailingly sensitive to Ms. Howe's airy technique, which could be mutilated by either too light or heavy an application of theatrical brush strokes. In league with Mr. Straiges, the director creates the illusion that a small stage is a vast stretch of coast, seen from an ever-rotating vantage point and rippling with overlapping waves, action and conversation. Though the heightened colors of ''Coastal Disturbances'' recall Joel Meyerowitz's lush Cape Cod photographs, the director begins or ends most scenes with a theatrical equivalent of candid Polaroid snapshots: a glimpse of private behavior is fixed and emblazoned on memory, then fades quickly, as if to reinforce the small, distant presentiment of death with which Act I begins.

In a cast that even boasts an exceptionally charming child actor (Mr. Abry), special praise belongs to the leads. Ms. Bening, an actress new to New York, provides a quicksilver Holly whose psychological and physical swoons into tears, laughter and lust all convey the mystery of a woman floating ambiguously but passionately between love and nervous collapse. As the drifting lifeguard with whom she tumbles, the extremely likable Mr. Daly burrows to the real meat of his role. With shy humor and ingenuously articulated longing, he makes us believe that his universally admired physique really does cloak the ''very sweet,'' unsophisticated and defenseless young man he claims to be.

Compelling as these performances are, ''Coastal Disturbances'' nonetheless subsides in Act II, when Ms. Howe settles for working Mr. Daly and Ms. Bening into a conventionally bittersweet summertime triangle, completed by an unexpected visit from Holly's big-city roue (Ronald Guttman) and capped by a ''Tempest''-flecked reconciliatory ending that is schematic and sentimental. Other characters, especially the contrasting young mothers, leave well before one wants to bid them farewell. But if Ms. Howe is hardly the most able maker of finished plays in our theater, she must be one of the most perceptive and, line by line, most graceful writers. ''Coastal Disturbances'' is distinctly the creation of a female sensibility, but its beautiful, isolated private beach generously illuminates the intimate landscape that is shared by women and men.

New York Times

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