With Seascape, American playwright Edward Albee won his second Pulitzer Prize for drama. Albee himself directed this Broadway production, which opened on January 26, 1975, at the Sam S. Shubert Theatre. The play was published by Atheneum that same year. Like many of Albee's plays, Seascape focuses on communication in interpersonal relationships, in this case between couples. Albee's first successful play, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962), and his first Pulitzer Prize-winning play, A Delicate Balance (1966), also concerned this topic. Seascape is different from these dramas on several counts. The play is not strictly a drama but, according to various critics, has elements of comedy, fantasy, satire, and/or absurdism. In Seascape, Nancy and Charlie, an American couple on the verge of the major life change of retirement, are having problems in their relationship. They are discussing these matters on the beach when another couple appears, two human-sized lizards named Leslie and Sarah who speak and act like people. The lizards have evolved to such a degree that they no longer feel at home in the sea and are compelled to seek life on the land What the lizards experience with Nancy and Charlie nearly drives them back to the sea, but with an offer of help from the human couple, they decide to stay. This relatively happy ending is not common in many of Albee's previous plays, and some critics find it refreshing. Critics are divided in their opinion of the play and its content. Some believe it is witty and original, while others find it to be pompous if not gimmicky, primarily because of the lizard characters. One critic who found Seascape noteworthy, Clive Barnes of the New York Times, writes, "it is a curiously compelling exploration into the basic tenet of life. It is asking in a lighthearted but heavy-minded fashion whether life is worth living. It decides that there is no alternative."
Act I Summary
Seascape opens on a beach. An older couple, Nancy and Charlie, has finished a picnic lunch. As Nancy cleans up, the noise of a jet flying low engulfs the stage. Charlie predicts that a jet will someday smash into a dune.
Nancy expresses her desire to be near the water forever. She loves everything about it and would like to travel from beach to beach. Charlie responds negatively to her dreams. He does not want to do anything or go anywhere.
Charlie's attitude angers Nancy. She points out that life is short. She threatens to have adventures on her own. Charlie's attitude changes after Nancy's outburst, and she retreats from her plan a bit. She is content to enjoy the moment.
After another jet passes by, Nancy reminds Charlie about his childhood desire to live under the water. Charlie tells her how he would sink to the bottom of a pool or lake and sit there until he had to breathe. Nancy encourages him to do this again and get in touch with his youth. Charlie refuses, embarrassed by her insistence.
Nancy changes the subject to their sex life. She tells him about a time in their marriage when she thought of divorcing him. There was tension, and she suspected that he was having an affair. Charlie denies this, and Nancy accepts his word.
Nancy encourages him to sink under the water again and to show her how he did it. Charlie again refuses and turns the conversation to her. He tells her that she was a good wife. Nancy says the same about him, listing the many ways in which he was a good husband. When she is done, she is bitter because the "good life" they have had seems limited to her. Charlie is hurt by her attitude. They argue. Nancy is still angry that his only interest is to rest, while she wants to experience new things.
During a pause at the end of their heated argument, Leslie, a human-sized male lizard, takes a peek at them. Nancy tries to get Charlie to help write postcards, but he declines. Leslie peeks at them again, this time with his female mate, Sarah. Nancy sees the lizards and is intrigued. Charlie is afraid.
Charlie demands that Nancy find him...
(The entire section is 1,620 words.)