Sea Marks, the second joint production of Wordshed Productions and Ghost & Spice Productions, opens tonight, and runs through Oct. 12th, in Studio 6 in Swain Hall at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This show is an offbeat 1976 love story written by actor, director, screenwriter, and playwright Gardner McKay (1932-2001), a New York City native who is, perhaps, most famous for playing Capt. Adam Troy, the dashing skipper of the schooner "Tiki III," in the 1959-62 television series "Adventures in Paradise," created by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist James A. Michener (Tales of the South Pacific).
The two Chapel Hill-based theater companies first joined forces to produce Accomplices in March 2003. Sea Marks director Jordan Smith, who played the title character in Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape last March, and John Murphy, who stars in Sea Marks, co-founded Ghost & Spice Productions in 2002.
Founded in 1998, Wordshed Productions is dedicated to researching, developing, and presenting live theater, literary adaptations, and film/video screenings, says company co-founder and artistic director Matthew Spangler.
"John Murphy called [Sea Marks] to my attention two or three years ago," recalls Jordan Smith. "It's a show he's wanted to do for a long time.… [Gardner McKay] writes very well."
Smith says, "It's a two-character play. I love the simplicity and the beauty of the writing. The characters are beautifully drawn. I love those two characters. I really do. And [McKay] puts some beautiful stuff into their mouths. The characters are very, very real and quite delightful."
Jordan Smith says, "This story is about a businesswoman, Timothea Stiles (Nicole Taylor), from Liverpool, England, but originally from Wales. She's trying to rise above her background and make a go of it in the publishing world. On a trip to Cliffhorn Heads, an island in the west of Ireland, she meets a typically stolid Irish fisherman, Colm Primrose (Ghost & Spice artistic director John Murphy), who's been a fisherman all his life. He and his family have never been off Cliffhorn Heads — have never gone anywhere to speak of.
"He becomes quite smitten with her, and takes a chance on writing a letter to her after she returns to Liverpool," says Smith. "She doesn't remember him, but they begin to exchange letters. In these letters, quite an unusual character emerges from the fisherman. He is, underneath it all, a philosopher and a poet — although he doesn't know it.
"She becomes fascinated with his letters and the character that he reveals of himself," Jordan claims, "and she invites him to come live with her in Liverpool. While he's there, she arranges to have the letters that he's written to her published by her firm, which astounds him and takes him aback."
Smith adds, "They have a tempestuous romance while he's there, but it comes out that she's seeking to advance herself in the publishing world by the use of his writing talent. He's considerably taken aback by this and also by his increasingly long absence from home and his father, his increasing sense of guilt, and soforth.
"When she presents him with the proposition that he forsake his home and make his home in her world," Smith says, "he finds himself unable to do that. And these two people, who have so much in common, part company; and he goes back to Ireland."
Smith says, "Once Colm returns to Ireland, he starts to write to Timothea again. When the play ends, we wonder if these two people, who were so obviously made for each other, will ever find their way back to each other again. So, what we have really is one person who desperately wants to escape her past and another who finds that he cannot."
Jordan Smith says Sea Marks is a simple, straight-forward love story. "It's simplicity itself," Smith declares. "It fits in Swain Hall beautifully. This is a show about two characters, and I don't want anything to detract from that. These are two simple people involved in an all-too-human situation."
Smith says the main creative challenge for cast and crew came at the very beginning of the rehearsal process. "The major challenge," Smith chuckles, "was that Paul Ferguson did Killer Diller in Swain Hall just before we moved in, and we had to get his set out."
Besides Jordan Smith, the Sea Marks production includes assistant director Michelle Byar, set designer Jeff Alguire, sound designer Rachel Klem, and light designer Matt Spangler.
Smith says the character of Colm Primrose reminds him of a line from "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" (1751) by British poet Thomas Gray (1716-71): "Full many a flower is born to blush unseen...."
Smith asks, "How many talents are born that go unseen? In Colm's case, he doesn't want to be seen. He wants to go home and be a fisherman.
"As far as Timothea is concerned," says Jordan Smith, "her heart leads her in one direction, and her head and ambition lead her in another direction. She's not willing to go back to Ireland with Colm. She's not willing [to give up her chance to climb the corporate ladder]."
Smith says, "You're left wondering whether they will find each other again, or they will stay apart and keep writing to each other. But there are no car chases or exploding buildings," he quips.
Wordshed Productions and Ghost & Spice Productions present Sea Marks Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 2-4 and 9-11, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 5 and 12, at 2 p.m. in Studio 6 in Swain Hall at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. $10 ($8 seniors and $5 students). 919/969-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org. http://www.unc.edu/wordshed/current.htm. Parking Alert: Bring $1 an hour to pay to park in the lots adjacent to Swain Hall.