Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 11, 2008

Not Waving

Williamstown Theatre Festival
through Aug. 17
By Bernadette Johnson

An afternoon at Williamstown Theatre Festival might be your safest bet these days for a storm-free day at the beach. But don’t be too sure. While there are only light, wispy clouds on the horizon, there are definitely storms brewing in Ellen Melaver’s “Not Waving.”

Melaver gives the audience permission to eavesdrop on three separate couples who stake out their claims for an afternoon on a stretch of beach near where a man has recently drowned. David Korins’ beach is definitely inviting with its dunes and driftwood, sea grasses and gently sloping sandy surfside expanse. An empty lifeguard stand adds an ominous note. There was no lifeguard on duty the day of the drowning.

The three couples as settle in: Matt and Lizzie (Nate Corddry and Maria Dizzia), a young married couple determined to relax (“We agreed on fun”); Patsy and Peter (Harriet Harris and Dashiell Eaves), a mother and her 32-year-old son seeking quality time together (at least she is); and Bo and Cara (Will Rogers and Sarah Steele), teenagers out for a fun day at the beach (Bo less enthusiastic than Cara, who has a subtler plan). The roles are well cast, each player contributing substantially to the unfolding drama.

It is as if the waves wash away all pretense, and layer by layer, we discover the issues that lie just beneath the surface. Secrets are revealed, emotions laid bare. Harris and Eaves play out the friction between mother and son, which is apparent and harmless enough from the outset then deepens. He eventually reveals that he finds her snobbish and she that she finds him forbidding and intimidating.

And from his “I’m bored” (minutes into their arrival) to his frantic attempt to build a gigantic skate park, Rogers captures the restlessness of one who isn’t quite thrilled with being at the beach.

There is very little interacting among the couples. Plot lines are not interwoven. These could easily be three separate vignettes if it were not for the underlying theme, three couples dealing with life situations, “the waves that knock you down.”