A New York Theatre Guide to... Sea Wall/A Life!
Here's all you need to know about the Broadway premiere of these two captivating monologues delivered by Tom Sturridge and Jake Gyllenhaal...
Over at the Hudson Theatre, audiences have been flocking to a unique and intimate performance of poignant storytelling under the banner of Sea Wall/A Life. Following its sold-out Off-Broadway run at the Public Theater earlier this year, this seemingly destined pairing of Olivier and Tony Award-winning playwright Simon Stephens' Sea Wall and Olivier Award-nominee Nick Payne's A Life made the move uptown and began performances at the Hudson on July 26, 2019, ahead of an official opening on August 8.
What’s it all about?
Sea Wall/A Life is composed of two monologues (each approx. 45 minutes in length), both presented under the sure hand of director Carrie Cracknell and both complimenting each other beautifully in terms of structure and themes. During the first half of the production, the character of Alex steers us through the often murky waters of Sea Wall. Throughout the course of Act I, we learn about Alex and his family. Through his memories and ideas, sometimes disjointed, sometimes broken, we get to know this man’s love for his wife and for his young daughter. We are also compelled to ponder notions of our immortality, the possibility of an afterlife and the existence or absence of God. Yes, there is unspeakable tragedy, but there is also unconditional love. In Act II, we meet Abe – our guide through A Life. He expresses the sheer panic of becoming a father and the heart-breaking loss of losing a father in an energetic, circle-of-life-style tour de force. Finally, as both Alex and Abe appear on the stage at the same time at the end of the production, an ever-expanding projection of windows on the façade of a block of apartments reminds us how we live our own lives on top of each other, all-too-often oblivious of the universality of the shared joys and sorrows of being human.
Who’s starring in it?
Tony Award nominee Tom Sturridge takes on the role of Alex in Sea Wall and Broadway fans may know this talented Brit from his previous Broadway outings in 1984 (also at the Hudson Theatre from May through October 2017) and Orphans (in a Tony-nominated Broadway debut opposite Alec Baldwin and Ben Foster, back in the spring of 2013). Film fans may recognise him from his turns in the likes of “Pirate Radio,” “Far from the Madding Crowd,” “Mary Shelley,” “Journey’s End,” “Waiting for Forever,” and “On the Road.” He is joined by Academy Award nominee Jake Gyllenhaal as Abe, who returns to Broadway following his critically-acclaimed turn in Sunday in the Park with George (at the Hudson from February through April 2017) and his Broadway debut in Constellations in the winter of 2015. He is, of course, a Hollywood favorite with widely celebrated performances in such films as “Donnie Darko,” “Prisoners,” “Nightcrawler,” “Southpaw,” “Nocturnal Animals,” “Spider-Man: Far from Home,” and his Oscar-nominated turn in “Brokeback Mountain.”
What’s special about this production?
Aside from the fact that Sea Wall/A Life is completely unique in its structure, compared to every other production currently on offer on Broadway, it is undoubtedly the perfect opportunity to experience an intimate evening (or afternoon) of storytelling with two masters of their craft. Both actors are breaking the fourth wall, inviting you to live their stories as they retell them, even leaving the confines of the stage and venturing through the auditorium at times. Alex and Abe have juxtaposing personalities, but their experiences are common to each other and to most of us in attendance. Although Simon Stephens’ Sea Wall was first staged in the UK in 2008, pre-dating Nick Payne’s A Life by eleven years, it seems like the two British playwrights’ monologues were always destined to be presented together in this way. Their similar style of writing and their similar thematic exploration make for a perfect match and It is also wholly satisfying to see two men openly talking about love and trauma, with no hint of machismo.
Who would we recommend it to?
This production might not be for those whose theatre visits normally revolve around lavish musical comedies, but it is for those of us who have reached adulthood and aren’t shy to reflect on the heartache of losing loved ones or the joys of unconditionally loving a partner. Yes, there will be plenty of Jake Gyllenhaal fans in attendance, but if you are a pensive, sensitive sort, then Sea Wall/A Life is also for you.
Sea Wall/A Life Tickets are available now for performances through September 29, 2019.
(Photos by Richard Hubert Smith)