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Homecoming is not always a pleasant experience. For the young man just separating himself from his adolescence, the return to the family can be a night-marish ordeal, a return which forces memories of a painful past too fresh to be casually accepted. And it is also a time when the familiar faces of childhood must be re-examined and forced, sometimes suddenly, into new perspective.
In his experimental play, By Seagirls Wreathed, Joel Schwartz sensitively explores the homecoming ritual, going beyond it to probe, sometimes angrily, the difficulty of communication and the agony of love which anxiously and fruitlessly seeks response.
Most of the play is the fitful dream of Tom, a youth returning from a visit with his gandfather. On the train ride home the grandfather reviews his life, realizing that he is "trapped inside myself." Almost horribly his memories are "forever and never [to] be anything else, they could not change, they were--what?--ugliness!"
Tom too is trapped by a past that cannot be erased, that his family will not let him forget. In his dreams he imagines them throwing back at him his every embarrassment, not really maliciously, but reasserting his childhood nonetheless.
More important than recollections of first cigarettes, however, is Tom's memory of Ellen, the girl next door, whom he loves without reward. She speaks to him "across too great a distance, too soft a silence, ... a vault filled with confusion... and swelling with love for one who merely receives: the ferment of the love-going of a one-way street."
With Ellen, Tom faces "December of longing, and perhaps a renewal of Saturdays of anguish." But not only with her--he reaches out in vain to others. "How much can you cry for a person you cannot have?", asks Ellen, who cannot possibly understand.
The despair seems endless. But through his dream Tom at last realizes that his yearning for communication is his strength, not his death. Woven in with family scenes is the Crucifixion theme; Tom must be crucified and laid bare before he can be ressurected. And at one point his old great-aunt, who is deaf to the others, reaches out and begs Tom to "touch me, reach me...If not your hand, Tom, then whose?" There will always be someone waiting to be reached.
Schwartz's often epigramatic script is imaginative, humorous, and insightful. At times it is almost musical in construct, with choral effects and the use of repeated images or words to introduce recurrent themes and to identify characters. But it is almost too complex and episodic for coherent drama.
The reading given at Lowell House is vibrant, if occasionally stiff and over stylized. Surprisingly, Mr. Schwartz himself is the weakest member of the cast, given to mumbling his lines. Sandra Robbins is superlative as the mother, Carola Dibbell sympathetically portrays the deaf aunt, and Mary Breasted is often arresting as Ellen.
But the staging is secondary to the script itself. And one viewing may leave you a little dissatisfied. Schwartz says and depicts so much in this short play that you will want to return to it several times.
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