In the love story Sea Marks, Irish fisherman Colm Primrose and city lady Timothea Stiles are as mismatched a couple as you’d ever find, and you love them for it.
That’s because actors Terry Burgler and Tracee Patterson are perfectly matched in this eloquent romantic drama playing at Coach House Theatre.
Director/actor Burgler has wanted to produce this gem for a couple of decades, and Akron audiences are lucky he has. The work by Gardner McKay, a Hollywood actor in the 1950s and ’60s, is gorgeously poetic with a palpable mood of yearning that tugs at viewers’ heartstrings. The play couldn’t be in finer hands than with esteemed Equity actors Burgler and Patterson, the incomparable Cleveland-area performer who delighted Coach House audiences as Lettice Douffet in the 2011 hit Lettice and Lovage.
Written in 1971, the two-character play tells the story of middle-aged lovers Colm and Timothea, who are separated by the Irish Sea between the Spartan island of Cliffhorn Heads and Liverpool, England, but might as well be a world apart. He gets one glimpse of her at a wedding on the island and becomes her pen pal, wooing her with vividly poetic descriptions of his life as a fisherman in a place where there’s no electricity, phones or cars and no last names are used.
Sea Marks was made into a movie for PBS in 1976, starring Veronica Castang and George Hearn, and made its Off-Broadway debut in 1981.
In this rich love story, Colm is a simple man who says men on his island don’t court a woman unless they intend to marry her. She’s a Welsh woman who has turned her back on her earlier farm life and made her life in the city working for a publisher.
Their relationship develops long-distance through letters. Although Burgler doesn’t look as young as Colm’s 49 years, he expertly brings to life both the character’s sweet chivalry and his simplicity, his voice cracking as Colm becomes nervous during key moments in their courtship. Colm’s an innocent man who has no experience with women and has never ventured far from his small island.
Burgler sports a nice brogue while Patterson switches effortlessly between a British accent and a Welsh one when her character talks about her past or drinks alcohol.
It’s not a cliché to say that Colm is a fish out of water when he comes to stay in Liverpool with Timothea. The blunt-talking fisherman tells Timothea that a bit of him is dying each day that he’s in the city, away from the sea.
Patterson’s Timothea is lovely, patient and loving, giving Colm what many folks would see as a wonderful surprise but which causes him a lot of consternation. She and her publisher see the unworldly Colm as a poet at heart, a “primitive” that the world will want to read.
Colm’s written and spoken words create powerful imagery of the sea, which both provides sustenance and takes life away in his world. But Colm does not want to be a darling of the publishing world. He just wants to keep living his simple life, which has become disrupted.
The play explores the disconnect between each of the lover’s goals and also addresses fear of change. Both Colm and Timothea learn that life can change in an instant.
Burgler’s set — which contains rough-hewn beams on each side of the stage surrounding both Colm’s remote island cottage and Patterson’s Liverpool flat — indicates there is some continuity between this pair’s vastly different lives.
Their connection is a bittersweet one that contains powerful wells of emotion. McKay’s beautifully written play also features fascinating Irish lore, all adding up to an excellent evening at the theater that audiences won’t want to miss.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.