Without a doubt the (second) best play you’ve never heard of. It’s got everything: shipwreck, Portuguese hermits, true love, attempted cannibalism, a secret society of Amazons simultaneously violently opposed to the existence of men yet strangely drawn to them for some strange, unknowable, passionate reason… and it’s the only Early Modern play I’ve ever encountered that keeps the audience in suspense about the plot, unfolding its exposition backwards and keeping the audience bewildered until the very last scene – like a Twilight Zone episode, but way more hilarious.
The Sea Voyage
by John Fletcher and Philip Massinger
Director: Molly Seremet
Assistant Directors: Jessica Andrews, Clarence Finn
Production Intern: Eugenia Titterington
(read the full text here)
From the director:
Whenever Fletcher and Massinger’s The Sea Voyage comes up in conversation (which admittedly isn’t often), it’s usually referenced as an imitation of The Tempest. Or a cheap knock-off of The Tempest. Or a Weird Al parody of The Tempest. You get my drift (pun intended). While these critiques are not entirely wrong, they are also woefully incomplete and ignore the magic of The Sea Voyage entirely. In many wonderful ways, The Sea Voyage is a love song (or sea shanty) to the magic of the theatre itself, unencumbered by rules of language or liiterary demands. The play disposes of the need for formal literary devices like exposition and character introductions and instead plunges its cast and audience immediately into deep waters with only the expertise of French pirates on which to rely (gulp!). The play’s narrative begins in the middle of the story and therefore Fletcher and Massinger cast us into the depths of the ocean to wash up to shore with the characters we find along the way. As the play’s tide comes in, we learn enough of the characters’ backstories to make the early events make sense, but it almost doesn’t matter. The Sea Voyage’s pleasure lies not in the strength of its narrative, but rather in the power of its spectacle and quest for adventure. Consider that while Shakespeare’s Tempest employs literary magic to ensure that its erstwhile characters wash up ashore in clean and dry clothes, Fletcher and Massinger strand their castaways looking precisely like drowned (albeit French) rats, bringing the reality of the ocean into the playhouse. Thus, The Sea Voyage aims to tell a more visceral story of peril at and around see than Shakespeare’s forerunner. In my humble opinion, the true magic of The Sea Voyage lies in the conversion of this spectacle-laden, almost-backwards narrative into a rollicking less-than-two-hour pleasure cruise, populated with French pirates, Amazonian women, Portuguese pirates, and cannibals. How have I not yet mentioned the cannibals? Fletcher and Massinger may not have written a literary masterpiece in The Sea Voyage, but I hardly think they were attempting to. Instead, The Sea Voyage lives on to be a beacon of what theatrical innovation and creativity in the rehearsal room can do to set an audience adrift with silliness in order to reel them directly into the play’s deep heart. At camp this summer, I hope you will come to love The Sea Voyage the way I do, and to give its rightful place alongside and not underneath that other play about a storm at sea (that disappointingly features no cannibals at all).