You can’t beat the view at the Independence Seaport Museum, where Philadelphia Artists’ Collective (PAC) takes up residence this Fringe Festival with a rare staging of Fletcher and Massinger’s The Sea Voyage. The Camden waterfront gleams in the distance, and just outside the wide windows that surround the makeshift playing area, promenading Philadelphians teem across Penn’s Landing. The setting puts the audience in the mood for a swashbuckling adventure story of the Jacobean variety.
Why Shakespeare is Shakespeare
The material itself rarely delivers on the promise of its surroundings. The fault lies not with PAC’s typically impressive approach to producing. The itinerant company has a knack for repurposing found spaces—just a few Fringes ago, they presented a stunning Iphigenia in Aulis aboard one of the Seaport Museum’s tall ships, visible from their current locale—and director Dan Hodge uses the ragtag arena to its full effect (action happens all around the bifurcated seating area, and had audience members jumping from their seats at the first performance). Eli Lynn supplies elegant and expressive fight choreography, and live music composed and performed by Christopher Waters underscores the proceedings with the right sense of panache.
The trouble mostly stems from the play itself. An obvious riff on The Tempest, which was written a decade prior, it contains neither the sparkling humanity nor the pleasantly bawdy comedy of Shakespeare’s last great work. The themes and elements are easily recognizable—shipwrecks, usurping, rivalries, and youthful romance—but they lack the Bard’s gravity and levels of meaning. There is a reason why Shakespeare is Shakespeare and Fletcher is best remembered as a brief punchline in All About Eve.
Although Hodge’s direction tries hard to elucidate the various strands of plot—and he mentioned that his treatment is heavily cut, with many characters excised—the action remains largely incomprehensible. The audience must take its pleasures where it can. Luckily, as is often the case with PAC productions, the assembled company includes many compelling and interesting performers who turn in vivid, individualized characterizations.
Yajaira Paredes is particularly memorable as Rosellia, the barnstorming leader of an Amazon-like tribe of self-sufficient women, and Kimie Muroya, Nataljia Sconiers, and Linnea Bond impress as her man-hungry followers. Nathan Foley imbues the role of Sebastian—Rosellia's long-lost husband, and the play’s Caliban figure—with genuine pathos. Stephanie Hodge is as guileless and graceful here as she was smilingly vicious in PAC’s brilliant ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore earlier this year.
PAC deserves commendation for its commitment to a canon of plays rarely taken up by modern companies, but not every dusty folio contains a neglected masterpiece. The Sea Voyage doesn’t capsize, but it takes on too much water.
What, When, Where
The Sea Voyage. By John Fletcher and Philip Massinger. Directed by Dan Hodge. Philadelphia Artists’ Collective. Through September 20, 2019, at the Independence Seaport Museum, 211 S. Christopher Columbus Blvd., Philadelphia. (215) 413-1318 or fringearts.com.
Accessibility: The Independence Seaport Museum is a wheelchair-accessible venue.