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The New Season: Tested Remy Bumppo gets Albee’s blessing to stage surreal ‘Seascape’

Submitted by on Aug 31, 2012 – 12:42 am

11th in a series of season previews: Albee’s Pulitzer Prize winner is joined by Shaw’s “You Never Can Tell” and Strindberg’s “Creditors,” all putting marriage under the glass. The season opens Sept. 12.

 By Lawrence B. Johnson

When Remy Bumppo Theatre was a fledgling enterprise, 16 seasons ago, founding artistic director James Bohnen sought permission from Edward Albee to stage his “Seascape,” a back-to-the-future study in marriage as an evolving proposition. Albee turned down the untried company – which makes the playwright’s newly bestowed approval all the sweeter.

“‘Seascape’ is typical of Albee, not only as a linguistic challenge in the precision of its language, but also in its enormous heart,” says Remy Bumppo’s current artistic director, Nick Sandys (pronounced Sands). “It’s about evolution, the future of the human race, and whether evolution is necessarily progress. But it deals fundamentally with communication and human relationships – the things Albee says he always writes about.”

Remy Bumppo made a previous foray into Albee’s world with its 2011 production of “The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?”

First produced on Broadway in 1975, “Seascape” brought Albee his second Pulitzer Prize after “A Delicate Balance” in 1966. Essentially it’s a colloquy on marriage – that of a couple approaching retirement and somewhat on the outs who are confronted on a seaside retreat by another couple who just happen to be lizard-humans emerged from the water.

Complementing this Albee coup is the Midwestern premiere of August Strindberg’s “Creditors,” a three-character clash in which a woman married to a younger man becomes the fulcrum of an insidious contest of sexual and psychological strength involving her current and former husbands. From his severe perspective, the Swedish dramatist called “Creditors” (1889) an amiable comedy.

The 2012-13 season in brief:

  • “Seascape” by Edward Albee (Sept. 12-Oct. 14): Straddling a line between comedic satire and absurdist theater, “Seascape” is a prime instance of Albee on a linguistic escapade. “It’s like Albee is always in the room. You have to keep his language exactly right,” says Sandys, who will direct the play. “If you say the wrong word, it will derail your thinking completely. His characters work in a realistic way but they speak with the precision of poetry. Albee says he never puts pen to paper until he has thought through a play start to finish. What you end up with here is realistic characters in an unrealistic situation.”
  • “You Never Can Tell” by George Bernard Shaw (Nov. 21-Jan. 6): Shaw the social commentator offers his liberal perspective on the modern woman as a lady’s three grown children unwittingly – through a string of comedic circumstances — invite the father they’ve never known to lunch. Meanwhile, one daughter, embracing the idea of modern womanhood, is staving off the marriage proposal of a young swain. “We did (Oscar Wilde’s) ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ two years ago,” says Sandys. “Shaw wrote this in response, as if to show Wilde how to write a real comedy.”
  • “Creditors” by August Strindberg (Midwest premiere of David Greig’s adaptation, April 10-June 2, 2013): In its darkly humorous fashion, reflecting Emile Zola’s appeal for hard-edged naturalism, “Creditors” is the story of an assault on a marriage by a woman’s former spouse. Although written for three characters, it plays out entirely in “duologues.” “Going back to neglected classics is something we’ve always done,” says Sandys. “This is a sexual triangle that involves changing combinations of predator and prey. Somebody is always trying to seduce the other person. It’s a sex game of psychological cat and mouse, with a surprising ending.”

Getting there:

Established in 1996, and named for co-founder Carol Loewenstern’s cat Remy and artistic director emeritus James Bohnen’s dog Natty Bumppo, the company mounts its productions at the Greenhouse Theatre Center, 2257 N. Lincoln in the north side Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

“We’ve debated going to other places,” says Sandys, “but all three of the spaces at Greenhouse allow us to focus on our primary concern – language. We view ourselves as Think Theater, an experience that combines seeing, hearing and feeling. In Western culture, there’s this fascinating split between the concepts of thinking and feeling, but in Eastern cultures these elements are inseparable. Good theater never splits the two.”

Though still in his inaugural year, Sandys declares himself “really excited to be in a place where I get to build. I’m already looking down the road two, three years. It’s a volatile time. Every theater company is experiencing financial challenges. But spiritually, we’re in a really good place.”

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Photo captions and credits: Home page and top: Playwright Edward Albee. Descending: Remy Bumppo artistic director Nick Sandys. Poster detail for Remy Bumppo’s production of “Seascape.” Playwright George Bernard Shaw. Playwright August Strindberg. Below: Greg Matthew Anderson in the 2010 Remy Bumppo production of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Annabel Armour and Nick Sandys in Edward Albee’s “The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?” in 2011. (Production photos courtesy Remy Bumppo)

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