Culture Lust by Angela Carone
On Sea of Tranquility, Moving West, And Writing Santa Fe
My friend Jessica and I never expected to end up in Southern California. We both grew up on the East Coast; I’d always imagined a 5 th floor walk-up in my future, or a haunted Victorian with bay windows and lots of nooks. But now we each live on canyons, with lots of glass and light. Jess has a fire pit, for pete’s sake. We don’t have fire pits back east. We have fires in barrels on neighborhood corners, but no one drinks martinis standing around those.
I figured “Sea of Tranquility,” at The Old Globe Theatre, was a fitting play for us to see on Friday night. It’s playwright Howard Korder’s (the Globe’s Playwright-in-Residence) comic take on the persistent belief in the transformative powers of the West.
Jess and I have recurring conversations about where we live; it’s our way of finding meaning here, a way of grafting our ideas of ourselves onto this still new and different place. The main characters in “Sea of Tranquility” seek the West as a way to escape the past. What they find out, of course, is there is no escape.
Ben (Ted Koch), a psychologist, and his wife, Nessa (Erika Rolfsrud), sell their Connecticut home and relocate to Santa Fe, New Mexico. When we first meet Ben, he’s in therapy with an older lesbian couple and a Jewish boy who has taken up the Nazi cause. His swastika-wear is a laugh offered in lieu of exploring the boy’s anger at his mother’s newfound sexuality. I like the humor, but I would have preferred some insight into how his world has turned upside down.
We meet a number of Ben’s clients throughout the play; in fact, there are fourteen characters in Sea of Tranquility. I felt like I was watching a series of vignettes that are supposed to tie together, but I couldn’t find the thread. Ben is the link, but a weak one. As a therapist, he’s the impetus for revelation from others, so when we’re later expected to make sense of his emotional life, I didn’t know or care enough about him. Actor Ted Koch does what he can with Ben, but the character is thinly drawn. In fact, he’s more of a foil for the other characters and for Santa Fe itself.