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Edward Albee’s ‘Seascape’ worthy fare indeed at Remy Bumppo

Sean Parrish (left) Emjoy Gavino are lizards with Patrick Clear (foreground left)  as Charlie Annabel Armour as Nancy 'Seascape.'

Sean Parrish (left) and Emjoy Gavino are the lizards, with Patrick Clear (foreground, left) as Charlie and Annabel Armour as Nancy in "Seascape."

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When: Through Oct. 14

Where: Remy Bumppo Theatre at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln

Tickets: $47.50-$52.50

Info: (773) 404-7336;

Updated: October 23, 2012 6:03AM

For nearly all of the first act of “Seascape” — Edward Albee’s 1975 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, now in an ideal production by Remy Bumppo Theatre — we are in the company of a long-married couple in solid middle age and good health. The pair has successfully raised their children, watched the arrival of grandchildren, and assured their financial future, and they are now vacationing on a very lovely beach.

But the more Nancy (Annabel Armour) and Charlie (Patrick Clear) talk — and unquestionably it is Nancy who is the engine for the discussion and enthusiastic dreaming — the more you sense a certain restlessness in “paradise.” And the periodic overhead roar of what might well be military jets is a loud reminder of the world beyond.

Nancy, a still-vibrant woman, proposes to Charlie that they might shake up their comfortable, long-settled lives and go beach-hopping around the world for awhile. The vaguely depressive Charlie wants nothing more than to hold on to his comfortable existence and “do nothing.” Apparently the life force has drained out of him, while Nancy is still in search of a last chance at adventure, and even some last experience of passion. She will not, it is clear, find this with Charlie. But she will not stray, either, though she has her fantasies.

And then something truly dramatic happens. (I would issue a spoiler alert here, but it is unnecessary.) Two very large, somewhat threatening lizards — who, we will discover, bear the names of Leslie (Sean Parris) and Sarah (Emjoy Gavino) — crawl over the sand dunes. Terrified, Nancy and Charlie quickly assume “submission positions,” hoping they will survive their visitors.

Of course there is an Act II. And that’s when the two “couples” cautiously begin to learn about each other — their mating and breeding habits, their emotions, their understanding of mortality. And along the way the whole notion of evolution gets put into a whimsical and poignant context. This is an adult fairy tale, infused with all things Darwinian, and it reminds us of our origins and instincts, our higher (and lower) nature, the long slog we had from the moment we came ashore and stood on two feet, and the enduring vestiges of our primeval past. At moments it feels overly simplistic, but it isengrossing.

I’ve seen a number of productions of “Seascape” over the years and all of them left me cold. Not this one. Like Albee, director Nick Sandys, Remy Bumppo’s new artistic director (and a veteran actor), has a great feel for both language (and what it can and cannot not quite say) and the emotional lives of his characters, whether human or amphibian. Armour and Clear are masters, but Parris and Gavino, whose slithering motion and expressive faces (aided and abetted by Rachel Laritz’s prize-worthy costumes) are wholly remarkable. They inhabit their species completely.

And a special mention for Angela Weber Miller’s magnificent set: It is not just a superbly textured and evocative seascape, but a sort of stereopticon-like three-dimensional vision. And it makes the very best use of the company’s Greenhouse Theater space to date.

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