There are great plays and not-so-great plays and then there is what Williamstown Theatre Festival is offering on its Nikos Stage: A well-directed, well-designed, well-acted waste of time. “Not Waving,” written by Ellen Melaver, is a vapid piece, without substance or purpose. At approximately 80 minutes, it is far too long.
WHERE: Williamstown Theatre Festival, Rte. 2, Williamstown, Mass.
WHEN: Through Aug. 17
HOW MUCH: $37-$35
MORE INFO: (413) 597-3400
Three couples are drawn to a public beach with a troubled history — a young man drowned there the previous summer. A few mentions are made of the tragedy, but that is the limit of the conceit. No thematic use is made by the playwright of the event except a vague reference at the end to someone “watching” someone as they dare to enter the water. There are a few initial laughs, but as you come to realize that nothing is going to happen and nothing of importance, nothing unpredictable, is going to be revealed, there is quite simply nothing to laugh about.
The actors are accomplished and attempt to breathe life into the text. Nate Corddy (Matt) and Maria Dizzia (Lizzie) play a married couple who are deciding whether to try to get pregnant again after two miscarriages. Their sex life is much discussed. Harriet Harris (Patsy) and Dashiell Eaves (Peter) are a mother and son who apparently have gotten along in the past but who have become estranged because he is “intimidating.” Their central conflict is about the fact that he wants to give “Nana’s engagement ring” to his affianced and she refuses to part with the ring. Will Rogers (Bo) and Sarah Steele (Cara) are a teenage couple who might or might not enjoy their first time together that very night.
There is much empty angst expended on these problems. Mothers are flayed for their shortcomings and children are tortured because of them. In jejune fashion, the conflicts are resolved and this may end up being the “best day” of somebody’s life. It is a case of Mister Rogers meeting Richard Wagner.
For all its flaws, the play is capably directed by Carolyn Cantor and the design team is to be commended. It has done its best work to create sand dunes, sunshine and salty air. David Korins’ gorgeous set might be any beach along the Atlantic coast. Lighting by David Weiner evokes the white-hot mid-day sun of a summer afternoon, and sound designer Bart Fasbender offers the right amount of surf and sea gulls. His timing is impeccable. Just when you feel there ought to be surf sounds, the surf comes up.
In all, this is a failed effort, with much talent squandered on a deficient vehicle.