SU Drama’s latest offering is an engaging exposition of life in the digital age. Directed by Katherine McGerr, Laura and the Sea opened to a packed theater Saturday evening in the Storch Theatre at the Syracuse Stage/SU Drama Complex. Writer Kate Tarker started working on the play during her graduate student days at the Yale School of Drama, but this was the first time the play was fully staged for a live audience.
The play opens in the office of travel agency J Travels, where colleagues of the titular character are trying to come to terms with the reality of her death. To do so, they are creating a string of posts on a memorial blog, or as Annie, the pushy general manager puts it, “a digital shrine.” The blog is a desperate attempt to piece together the events of an obligatory sailing outing over the smooth waters of New York — the day Laura decided to kill herself.
The play’s success lies in its intelligent writing and remarkable performances that stay with you even after heading out of the theater.
The six actors, all Syracuse University Department of Drama students, deliver stellar performances that are captivating and confident. As the obsessive-compulsive manager who sends out emails every two minutes, musical theater senior Jesse O’Brien convincingly wears an overbearing demeanor and keeps the audience entertained. Adam Coy, a senior acting major, showcases his range as the egotistical and insecure Stan, who starts throwing staplers in a meltdown brought on by his failure to bond with Laura over paper shredding.
Tarker’s witty writing and McGerr’s artful direction keep the audience arrested throughout the play. Sparkling dialogue ridden with dark humor — like “I wasted half of my life on the internet and now I’m wasting my afterlife” — sent the audience into a laughter riot, yet forced them to reflect on the weight behind the words. Tarker uses humor to open a dialogue about a topic otherwise shrouded in darkness.
Greg Folsom, the lighting designer innovatively lights the stage to transform it from an office space to the blog to the pleasure boat. The dim, blue lights and projections of the emails changed the stage into a digital forum, while bright, yellow lights distinguish the stage as a well-lit office space.
While the actors’ body language and silences worked to convey their inability to handle grief and an air of solemnity, the long pauses and slow pacing of the show sometimes proved to be distracting. The simultaneous interactions on two opposing corners of the stage was confusing for audience members sitting in the front rows.
The play accurately captures the truth of our times — the inability to forge connections in a disconnected world — with help from relevant iconography and familiar jargon — Flickr, playlist and Pinterest. The palpable pain of the workers as they stopped by their deceased colleague’s desk to rearrange a calendar, while struggling to share their sorrow with those around them was felt by the audience members.
As Annie from the show puts it: “Life is a succession of butterflies. Pin them while you can.” Laura and the Sea runs through Nov. 13 — go and catch this show while you can.
A version of this review appeared on www.thenewshouse.com.
Photo: Mike Davis/Dept. of Drama
Photo: Mike Davis/Dept. of Drama