theatre review: ‘Lady From the Sea’ a genuine performance

Meredith Shea

Written in 1888, Henrik Ibsen’s “The Lady From the Sea” is a beautiful play where love, secrets and mental illness are constant struggles witnessed by each character.  Performed by UMKC second year M.F.A. actors at the Spencer Theatre, the play showcases genuine talents.

In the beginning, the stage is dark.  The lady from the sea, Ellida (Courtney Salvage), enters in her bathing suit and dances in a cool blue transforming light, the sea.  She is at peace, for now.  All too quickly it is revealed that she is struggling internally with past secrets of a sailor that have been haunting her for the last three years, the length of her marriage to Dr. Wangel (Logan Black).

The play progresses as Dr. Wangel’s two daughters enter, Hilde (Janaé Mitchell) and Bolette (Jessica Biernacki-Jensen). They are in full bloom and are hopeful of finding love. It isn’t until Arnholm (Michael R. Pauley) and Hans Lyngstrand (Vincent Wagner) woo them that their hopes may come true.

Meanwhile, Ellida and Dr. Wangel’s relationship worsens.

In a scene between Dr. Wangel and Ellida, Ted Swetz takes a beautiful approach in his direction.  Ellida and Dr. Wangel are at the brink of an end to their relationship.  Their marriage is slipping away.

During this revealing scene, Black and Salvage do not look at each other.  Instead, they face front and play toward the audience even though they are speaking to each other.

The stage is mostly dark except for a window of light on each actor.  It is an honest scene, lit and effectively underscored with music, and leaves the audience heartbroken, but is all too quickly interrupted when Dr. Wangel’s daughters enter cheerfully.  The constant struggle between openness and hidden secrets is played back and forth throughout the remainder of the play.

When The Stranger (Antonio Glass) enters near the end of Act I, the play takes the audience on another thrill ride.  Can Ellida ever truly be happy again with her heart split between a lost love and her husband?

The struggle between the alpha male stranger and poor Ellida is spooky.  Glass is a tall, strong man.  His stage presence next to Salvage is powerful and dangerous for an audience member who has been sucked into the imaginative world of the theater.  The two actors appear extremely comfortable with each other, which allows them to be emotionally connected during performance to the fullest capacity.  It is a trust all audience members love to experience.

The same goes for Black and Salvage throughout.

However, the most charming performance belongs to Wagner, who manages to play a character that is both sick and full of life, showing just the right amount of sickness without going overboard. In scenes between Wagner and Mitchell, their youth shines through and will make the audience smile.

Technically, the production is clean.  The set, designed by Kristin Yager, is transformable using smooth scene transitions and flying scenery.  A horseshoe-shaped inclined platform allows the actors to play on different levels and sets front and back focus easily.

The lighting design by Brandon J. Clark complements the action with precision.  The lights smoothly move from sharp focus to wide focus, which allows the audience to know where to look at any given moment.  The moving lights used to show an illusion of the sea on the stage floor is excellent and sets the sea apart from the land.

The sound, designed by Alex Glamyan, is enchanting and daunting throughout.  It portrays the emotions going through the characters’ heads and lets the audience understand the world in which the characters are living better.

The costumes, designed by Genevieve V. Beller, are absolutely gorgeous.  The dark clothes of Ellida contrast with the light summer clothes worn by the other characters in order to reveal a little something extra about her, that she is not well.

Overall, “The Lady From the Sea” is a lovely play, and shows graduate level theater and production at its finest.  The show officially opens Oct. 24 and runs through Oct. 28.  It is a play that should not be missed.

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