Simon Stephen’s new play, On the Shore of the Wide World, at the Atlantic Theater, rumbles up behind you slowly, over a series of short scenes. The play investigates three generations of the Holmes family, from a small town near Manchester England, by charting the relationship of the youngest generations’ Alex and his girlfriend Sarah.
Alex and Sarah seem an odd pair at first; he is a bit socially awkward around girls and she is a dynamo. Ben Rosenfield plays Alex, charting the characters growth over the course of the show from teenager to young man emotionally. Tedra Millan is wonderful as Sarah, barely changing her character in any obvious way over the course of the play, yet deepening Sarah at every step. Wesley Zurick is quite brilliant as the younger brother Christopher. Alex introduces Sarah to the family, his father Peter (C.J. Wilson) and mother Alice (Mary McCann) in addition to brother Christopher.
|C. J. Wilson, Tedra Millan, Ben Rosenfield and May McCann (photo from Atlantic Theater Group)|
The parents have fallen into a rut and the excitement of their son’s new love is both scary and frustrating. Their emotional drifting deepens as Alex’s relationship’s growth and they watch a repeat of their love, but now detached. Both long for that first rush of love, but can’t fully put it into words. Medical issues in the family make inevitable conflicts more urgent.
Bonnie Blair and Peter Maloney, two excellent actors, play the grandparents. If Peter and Alice recognize themselves at a different age in their son’s life, the grandparents are beyond even that. Their relationship has atrophied into habit and entropy.
Alex and Sarah set out for the wild world (London) and trigger introspection by the rest of the family, who have all settled into a pre-ordained life. Peter ends up having discussions, the ones he should have with his wife, with a young client. Alice finds emotional comfort from a man she hardly knows. A medical issue forces the grandfather to confront his own life and shortcomings.
On the Shore of the Wide World makes an interesting argument very subtly. That is, relationships follow a path, and we have to remember to not let that path become a rut. Peter and Alice struggle to change their family for the better, even when quite frustrated. Their inability to communicate is, at times, infuriating, but recognizable. Director Neil Pepe does a deft job of handling the multiple scenes without confusion or noise, letting the actors dominate a busy play.
On the Shore of the Wide World | Playwright: Simon Stephens | Director: Neil Pepe | Cast: Blair Brown, Odiseas Georgiadis, Peter Maloney, Mary McCann, LeRoy McClain, Tedra Millan, Ben Rosenfield, C. J. Wilson, Amelia Workman, Wesley Zurick | website