With a series of celebrated readings and full productions (including 2012 Fringe hit The Creditors) Philadelphia Artists’ Collective has established a reputation as one of the best independent companies in the city. PAC’s 2013 Fringe offering, THE SEA PLAYS, should enshrine this reputation. The short works in this production, Bound East for Cardiff and In the Zone, are two early pieces American master playwright Eugene O’Neill (The Iceman Cometh, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, A Moon for the Misbegotten) inspired by the years he spent aboard a merchant ship. In a feat of perfect site-specific staging, they are produced here below deck on Philly’s tall ship Gazela: the cramped, overheated confines an ideal setting for the claustrophobic scenes aboard the fictional S.S. Glencairn.
Brian McCann gives a performance of rough nobility as Driscoll, an Irish seaman at the heart of both tales. In Bound East for Cardiff, Drisc tries to comfort a gravely wounded mate (John Lopes, in a moving and convincing turn). Perhaps close to death, Yank laments that seafaring life “ain’t much to cry about leavin’—just one ship after another, hard work, small pay, and bum grub; and when we git into port, just a drunk endin’ up in a fight, and all your money gone, and then ship away again.” Death is lurking again In the Zone, in the form of a German submarine. The stir-crazy crew grows suspicious that a reticent Englishman (Brian Ratcliffe) might be a spy. Drisc and his anxious mates interrogate the suspect, but find something more personally devastating lies within his hidden box. Director Damon Bonetti has assembled a stellar cast of local actors for these stirring Conradian tales of love and death. Each actor delivers. THE SEA PLAYS is an intimate and inspired voyage into the heart of human darkness. [Tall Ship Gazela] September 11-23, 2013, fringearts.ticketleap.com/the-sea-plays-bound-east-for-cardiff-and-in-the-zone.