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Wordshed Productions and Ghost & Spice Productions Review: Sea Marks Is a Warm and Winning Story of an Unlikely Middle-Aged Romance

October 10, 2003 - Chapel Hill, NC:


Chapel Hill-based Wordshed Productions and Ghost & Spice Productions' second joint production, Sea Marks, by actor, director, screenwriter, and playwright Gardner McKay (1932-2001), is a captivating offbeat romance and a middle-aged romance at that! sensitively staged by ubiquitous Triangle actor and Ghost & Spice co-founder Jordan Smith. His 1976 play chronicles the sometimes stormy love affair between two real three-dimensional characters: crusty Irish fisherman Colm Primrose (Ghost & Spice artistic director John Murphy) and ambitious book-publishing executive Timothea Stiles (Nicole Farmer Taylor), a farm girl born in rural Wales but now living in the bustling big city of Liverpool, England.

After they "meet" at a wedding i.e., after lifelong bachelor Colm glimpses Timothea and falls instantly in love Stiles returns to Liverpool unaware that she has a new gentleman admirer a true primitive whose rough (and usually unwashed) exterior conceals the heart of a poet. Colm woos Timothea by letter with his earthy and, at times, piercingly poetic observations about his hardscrabble life as a small-time fisherman in isolated Cliffhorn Heads on the rugged Irish coast. (Colm and his never-seen elderly partner, "The McAfee," put out to sea in a small boat, in all kinds of weather, to net all the herring and mackerel that their small boat can hold.)

"Sea marks," says Colm, "[are] those lines that the highest reach of the tide leaves on the land to remind you that it'll be back."

Timothea eventually invites Colm, who has never left home in his life, to come and visit her in Liverpool. After he does, she secretly collects and publishes his love letters, much to Colm's chagrin and consternation. Colm becomes a highly reluctant overnight celebrity; and ill-prepared to handle literary acclaim, he takes to consuming massive quantities of alcohol, which make him hopelessly homesick and jeopardize his relationship with Timothea.

Sea Marks is a delightful little two-character play, which features crackerjack performances by John Murphy and Nicole Farmer Taylor. Usually consigned to playing shifty-eyed villains, Murphy demonstrates a softer (more romantic, even soulful) side in his characterization of Colm. Taylor proves the perfect foil; her sophisticated and unashamedly ambitious Timothea is more than a match in love and commerce for the fiercely independent Colm. Taylor is one of the Triangle's finest and most resourceful actresses, and her reputation for acting excellence grows with each successive role.

Executive producer and director Jordan Smith's skillful staging (with the help of assistant director Michelle Byars), scenic designer Jeff Alguire's warm and comfy set, and lighting designer Matthew Spangler's atmospheric lighting also help make Sea Marks a must-see production. Don't miss this extraordinary love story and the especially vivid portrayals by John Murphy and Nicole Farmer Taylor of two of the most unforgettable characters of this or any other year.

Wordshed Productions and Ghost & Spice Productions present Sea Marks Friday-Saturday, Oct. 10-11, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 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 wordshed@unc.edu. http://www.unc.edu/wordshed/current.htm. Parking Alert: Bring $1 an hour to pay to park in the lots adjacent to Swain Hall.