By Eric J. Grimm
A bioethical dilemma brings the worst out of privileged Connecticut baby boomers in Cate Ryan’s new play In the Secret Sea. Director Martin Charnin stages the one-act as a parlor comedy, maintaining a consistent pace that often masks the limitations of the dramatic script. An expressive cast commits to the familial turmoil but Ryan’s abrasive and overly explanatory dialogue often propels them into shrill territory; the anguish of their situation is lost amidst the noise.
Joyce (Glynnis O’Connor) and Gil (Paul Carlin), an uptight pair of yuppies, contrast well with their looser if equally privileged in-laws, Audrey (Shelly Burch) and Jack (Malachy Cleary). When Joyce and Gil’s son Kenny (Adam Petherbridge) drops a bombshell on the couple just before Easter dinner, they confront a difference of opinion on a sensitive issue and must also contend with the other couple’s beliefs on the matter. The setup is predictable and the show might have worked as an entertaining exploration of unlikeable characters’ reactions to an unexpected trauma. Through clunky dialogue, however, Ryan attempts to humanize her characters and instead gives the show a maudlin after school special feel that undercuts any sense of tragedy. The characters seem to only disagree with each other in service of artificial dramatic tension.
The four actors who play the couples show some flashes of charisma as the clashing suburbanites, attempting to mine the script for authenticity as it dips in and out of bombast. O’Connor fares best as she navigates Joyce’s transition from nauseating housewife to moral compass for her stubborn husband. The switch isn’t remotely believable, but O’Connor’s approaches to both sides of the character elevate the material.
In the Secret Sea plays at the Samuel Beckett Theatre (410 W. 42nd St.) through May 21. Run time 80 minutes. For tickets, visit http://www.theatrerow.org/beckettnowplaying/.