Albatross

May 24, 2015

in Plays

Play (2014)
by Matthew Spangler and Benjamin Evett

Directed by Rick Lombardo

Inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Produced by Michael Seiden and The Poets’ Theatre
New Repertory Theatre
Arsenal Center for the Arts, Watertown, MA

Mary 21-24, 2015

With Benjamin Evett (The Mariner)

Benjamin Evett as The Mariner in 'Albatross'

Benjamin Evett as The Mariner
in “Albatross”
Photo: Andrew Brilliant
Courtesy of The Poets’ Theatre and
New Repertory Theater

An extraordinary solo performance by Benjamin Evett in an inventive and dramatic rendering of Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

One cannot say enough about Ben Evett’s solo performance in this creative adaptation of Coleridge’s great account by a sailor of his trying adventures to, and in, the Southern oceans. In an hour and a half of nonstop monologue, Evett’s sailor takes the audience on an epic voyage of its own, every moment a riveting waystation on the journey. Without losing a beat, Evett creates a character with a complexity of character – he’s certainly no angel – but with whom one identifies strongly. He is a tragic hero, vividly, in both senses, facing tremendous challenges, and rising up to them often in existentially demanding, and sometimes in less than completely noble, ways.

Apparently the project began to take shape in 2012 when Evett, a Boston area actor who was a repertory member at the American Repertory Theater for many years and then founded and ran the Actors’ Shakespeare Project for many years as well, decided to do a one-man show. He wasn’t sure what it would be about, but had the sense that it would have some kind of multimedia aspect to it. He approached Matthew Spangler, who had adapted The Kite Runner for the stage and which was produced at the New Repertory Theater several seasons ago, who responded that he had always wanted to do an adaptation of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and thus the project was born.

And what a project it is.

Accompanying Evett’s remarkable performance is a host of subtly supportive, but non-invasive, multimedia effects, engendering a sense of solo performance that is truly enhanced rather than co-opted by supervening technology. At one point early on, Evett’s Mariner carefully clips together an array of canvases and hoists them into a beautifully earthy and suggestive organization of sails, triangular and interleaved. In what ensues, they become not only backdrops but screens, carefully targeted by the digitally sophisticated display technology that uses them to full, but not imposing, advantage.

Part drug-trip and part religious allegory, the poem itself can take one on a ride high over the waves that are its presumed medium, but this dramatic interpretation regulates that, enabling character rather than vision, engagement rather than epiphany, to create the broad structure within which the drama unfolds.

From Coleridge’s long, allegorical poem. Spangler and Evett have fashioned an entertaining and vivid adventure story that still includes the allegorical sense of the original without getting swept away by it. Part drug-trip and part religious allegory, the poem itself can take one on a ride high over the waves that are its presumed medium, but this dramatic interpretation regulates that, enabling character rather than vision, engagement rather than epiphany, to create the broad structure within which the drama unfolds. In doing so, the play recreates the scene of the poem and infuses it with an earth – or sea – boundedness that reverberates throughout.

Matthew Spangler, co-author of 'Albatross'

Matthew Spangler
Co-author of “Albatross”
Courtesy of matthewspangler.org

Spangler and Evett have developed a character that is magnetic and interesting, morally complex and existentially appealing. He is, by no means, a simple hero but a grizzled and turbulent one who rises out of the dilemmas of sea and strife with a full array of battle scars that generates a convincing sense of emerging nobility.

This combination of robust reenactment and attunement to the spirit of the poem results in a fertile hybrid of rhapsody and narrative, and it is no surprise that the particular combination of dramatic and poetic chemicals at work here provides the energetic and evocative Benjamin Evett the fuel for creating a performance of unforgettable power and drive.

Benjamin Evett

Benjamin Evett
Producing Artistic Director
The Poets’ Theatre
Photo: Courtesy of The Poets’ Theatre

The mission of The Poet’s Theatre, with Evett as its founding artistic director and motivating force, seems clear – to bring vivid theatre to poetry and, in turn, to bring poetry of all kinds into the theatre. As the founding artistic director of the Actors’ Shakespeare Project, Evett was a demonstrable force in bringing the Bard’s poetry to local stages in a particularly vivid and effective way; here, in a context that allows a broad reach to all kinds of authors and sources of inspiration, that capacity so vividly fulfilled by ASP and so earnestly promised by this initial outing, seems well on course.

This combination of robust reenactment and attunement to the spirit of the poem results in a fertile hybrid of rhapsody and narrative, and it is no surprise that the particular combination of dramatic and poetic chemicals at work here provides the energetic and evocative Benjamin Evett the fuel for creating a performance of unforgettable power and drive.

Though this run was very short, and followed by several months the brief run at ArtsEmerson during blizzard season, it appears that it will be revived in one venue or another in Boston before too long. Do keep it on your radar and try your best not to miss it when it sails into town again.

– BADMan

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