Horsefins & mirrors
Cabaret presents gripping Sea Horse; Young Co. plays with Snow White.
In nature, it is the male who carries the young. Once the female seahorse’s eggs have been laid, the male gathers them into himself and later births the tiny offspring among the shifting and clashing currents of the open sea.
And that’s kind of what Harry Bale’s situation is, too, in Chico Cabaret’s latest production, Edward J. Moore’s drama The Sea Horse. While Harry may not literally be carrying his lover Gertrude Blum’s offspring, he is the only one of this warring couple who maintains dreams for the future and makes plans toward continuing their relationship.
As the play opens, it’s teeming down rain outside, while Gertrude is sweeping up The Sea Horse, a dockside bar in Southern California that she inherited from her deceased father. Harry soon arrives outside, banging on the door and peering frantically through the window, claiming he’s drowning out there. Gertrude takes her time letting the returning seaman in. From there we are taken on a volatile voyage through the couple’s stormy past and across its choppy present, only to becalm before the looming gray horizon of its future.
Harry’s got it all worked out. He wants to give up the life of the open sea and settle down locally. He’s got his eye on a fishing vessel he wants to buy, fix up and turn into a going concern. He wants them to get married. He foresees nothing but hard work and happiness. And kids. Harry’s got it all worked out.
Gertrude, of course, has a different take on things. And it is Gertrude’s motivations for scuttling Harry’s desires and dreams at every turn that supply most of the drama and mystery here. The couple clearly feels affection for each other; why does she keep him from getting closer? Through Harry’s passion and persistence we eventually sound the depths of Gertrude’s psyche.
As the main characters, Phil and Sue Ruttenburg turn in some of their best work. It is good to see them stretching their talents in these demanding roles. Harry and Gertrude are rough, tough talking and sometimes even physically violent folks. My only criticism is that the duo rushed the silences. The spaces between lines can be telling, and, on occasion here, the Ruttenburgs didn’t allow those silences to resound with their full emotional implications.
The set was great. It was a real seaside-themed dive, with deep blue walls hung with fishing nets and starfish, an authentic Wurlitzer jukebox with its wooden housing and opaque glass tubing filled with brilliantly shifting colors, rough chairs and tables with seashell ashtrays, bar, beer taps, and so on. The only thing missing was a beat-up old pool table. Costumes were believable, and lighting and sound generally good. The show continues two more weekends.
Meanwhile, over at the Blue Room’s Young Company, an enjoyable production of the Brothers Grimm’s “Snow White” was staged. It was pretty much the standard tale, only peppered through with director-writer Lisa Schmidt’s funny observations and one-liners.
Standout kid performers included Tonio Lieberum, who played three separate characters, including the king, a wandering salesman who just happens to carry animal hearts on him (read the story again—you’ll understand why this is funny), and the handsome prince, who here is way too dependent upon his "Prince Guide Book." Also good was Cypress Durkin as a kind of liberated Snow White and little Celia Eckert as the mirror. Particularly entertaining was Katie Morrison as evil Queen Helga. Morrison’s spidery finger movements, stance, delivery and voice control were all quite good.