Gardner McKay’s “Sea Marks:” A Lonely Sailor Finds Romance at Irish Rep

If you’re seeking an evening of charm and romance, head to the Irish Repertory Theater where Gardner McKay’s “Sea Marks” has been enchanting audiences.

This two character play starts an epistolary work, letters back and forth between a man and woman. Colm Primrose (Patrick Fitzgerald) is a fisherman in a remote island in the west of Ireland. Timothea Stiles (Xanthe Elbrick) is from the farm country in Wales but has made the move to a career in book publishing in Liverpool.

The two met at a wedding of one of Timothea’s relatives and Colm is immediately smitten. He writes poetic letters to her, describing his life. Though he has a tough existence battling the elements, Colm is the sheltered one, who has never traveled from his birthplace and, though in his forties, is still a virgin.

Timothea is a sophisticated divorcee; she managed to extricate herself from a marriage to a con man. She ultimately convinces Colm to visit her in Liverpool, whereupon she seduces the innocent fisherman.  He ends up staying and she surprises him with a gift. She adapts his letters into a book, making him into an unwilling celebrity, a sort of Irish Robert Frost. Fitzgerald fits the role especially well since, with his white locks, he even looks a bit like the late poet.

The play reflects some of the life experiences of the late playwright. McKay, a native New Yorker, had sailed since childhood. As a young man, he became famous when he starred on a television series, “Adventures in Paradise,” in which he played a sailor. However, he wasn’t interested in being a celebrity and gave up acting for writing plays and reviews. He turned out to be far more interesting than his acting suggested.

What is striking about the play is McKay’s knowledge about the lives of fisherman in a remote part of Ireland. Also, the language used in Colm’s letters is poetic, making his transition to published author credible.

Elbrick and Fitzgerald are believable even when the plot turns are not. The actors are immensely likeable and Ciarán O’Reilly’s direction is up to the high standards of Irish Rep. Also praiseworthy are Charlie Corcoran’s set (depicting Colm’s rustic home and Timothea’s digs in the city) and Michael Gottlieb’s lighting.

“Sea Marks” continues through July 13th at the Irish Repertory Theater (132 West 22nd Street; 212-727-2737, irishrep.org) and it is highly recommended.

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