As theater gods go, Edward Albee is way up there, and yet not infallible. So if he decides that certain material he created - such as the second act of his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1975 play "Seascape," about a retired couple who have a curious interspecies encounter with a pair of large lizards while lolling on the beach - deserves to be stashed in a drawer, that impulse should probably be heeded.
It was quite a coup for the plucky Zeitgeist Stage Company to secure Albee's permission to resurrect the quashed underwater interlude, which the playwright once dismissed as "too fantastic." The interlude also happens to be way too tedious: The restored second act could be subtitled "Edward Albee Explains It All for You" (evolution, that is). Even if the interpolated act were not inherently weak, tossing it back in extends the play's running time to nearly three hours.
On the other hand, rumored past difficulties in adapting the set for a submarine setting sound like a face-saving dodge. Here, director/designer David J. Miller's beachscape (marred by boxy-looking boulders) easily transforms into an adequately convincing simulacrum of the briny deep, when aided by Jeff Adelberg's shimmery, bluish lighting scheme.
From the opening scene, we get the gist of this couple's relationship. Nancy (radiant Michelle Dowd, whose face seems made for delight) is the optimist, the Mother Earthly force of nature who balks at the notion of a complacent senescence. She wants to see the world - ideally, beach by beach. Charlie (Peter Brown) is the designated downer, a dyspeptic stick-in-the-mud who, given the choice, would prefer to "do nothing."
Charlie (Brown plays him perhaps deader than strictly necessary) becomes animated only at the memory of his childhood delight at being able to sink to the bottom of a pool, or hide out beneath the waves. Heartened by this revelation, Nancy urges him to go for it - and soon, when two frightening human-sized lizards appear, they both have no choice but to flee into the surf.
Act 2 opens like a dream sequence: The humans find they can easily breathe and converse underwater (Charlie, typically, is convinced they've died of liver-paste poisoning.) They can even converse with the two reptiles (Claude Del and Emma Goodman, resplendently costumed by Fabian Aguilar and made up by Judith Leonardo), once the ice has been broken with a ritual "paw"-shaking. The male lizard remains vigilant and territorial, as, more covertly, does Charlie. While Nancy patiently tries to explain evolution and the function of emotions such as love, Charlie crudely drives home the point by forcing the female lizard to confront the inevitable prospect of her mate's demise.
He's acting out his own concerns (vis a vis Nancy) by playing snake in the Garden. It's a cruel move, but recognizably human. Where the dialogue falls into absurdity is the notion that (A) lizards mate for life; and (B) these particular lizards don't already experience emotion, because they demonstrate plenty of it: fear, aggression, attachment. Their body language - both Del and Goodman are wonderfully agile and expressive - is clearly informed by feelings. For either of the humans to assume a missionary role (Nancy as the kindly explicator, Charlie as the conquering proselytizer) seems presumptuous in the extreme.
Perhaps that's the playwright's point, but it's muddled - at least in this production - by a seemingly interminable wash of biological/philosophical musings. Even Dowd's admirable dynamism can't drag this inchoate experiment up from the muck.