- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 18, 2001

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's new play, "The Muckle Man," is Frankenstein-like in its ambitions: pieces of domestic drama, folkloric fairy tale and science-fiction thriller sewn together with a sense of its own audaciousness.
The trouble is that — as with Frankenstein's monster — the stitches and scars are clearly visible and more than a little distracting.
The premise is intriguing enough. After one of their sons drowns and the other's near-drowning costs him his ability to speak, the Clarkes are crumbling.
Marina Clarke (Jenifer Deal) is a woman marooned, trapped on the Newfoundland coast for the past two years by her husband's work. Once an active painter, she no longer can do anything but sit on the beach and stare into the ocean.
Her isolation is made all the worse because her husband, Addison Clarke (Daniel Ladmirault), finds consolation in his work as a marine biologist and his search for giant squids.
She feels abandoned by him as he gives fund-raising talks, follows up on calls from crackpots and eventually finds the elusive squid, which he watches over obsessively.
Lost in one of her endless afternoons on the beach, Marina is stunned when a man emerges from the ocean and asks for her help. He's actually there to help her, though — or so he says, and so it seems at first.
Strange things start to happen. With the arrival of the man from the ocean, marine life begins to die, Marina has inexplicable visions, and the giant squid in Addison's lab begins to grow bones.
The man from the ocean, who calls himself Arthur Campbell, even restores Harvey Clarke's (Wyatt Fenner) speech.
Mr. Aguirre-Sacasa works double time to build the tension, but then much of that carefully constructed mystery is summarized sloppily in an after-dinner argument between Marina and Addison.
Hints at even more shocking possibilities are abandoned: Why does the squid grow bones? Why did Arthur Campbell initially help Marina? If she became so scared of the ocean's power over her family, why didn't she just move to Kansas and be done with it?
As Marina, Miss Deal gives a strong performance as a woman teetering on the edge, losing her grip on her life until Arthur Campbell shocks her out of her torpor. Marina keeps a clenched fist around her grief most of the time, but when the sense of her loss crashes over her, Miss Deal radiates anger and sadness.
Despite its heaviness, "The Muckle Man" has some lighter moments. Some work, and others seem thrown in for the sake of giving the audience a break.
Those that work are provided mostly by Jennifer Phillips as Marina's sister Dora, who came to Newfoundland to help the Clarkes after their tragedy.
For Marina, the place is a subzero hell, and her hatred of the land consumes her. For Dora, though, it seems like an unbearable place only because of the scarcity of men.
Miss Phillips' blithe performance is the perfect foil for the gravity of Miss Deal's, and although the play — directed by Joe Banno — lurches along in several scenes, that's never the case when the two women share the stage.
Other comic relief is provided by Addison's fellow scientist, Gilbert Mackenzie (Michael Laurino). Gilbert is likably goofy and might be more so if so many of his lines didn't sound as though they were written in specifically for effect. A whole bit about revealing his homosexuality seems like an elaborate way to work in dialogue about his prostituting himself to a smitten male co-worker for the use of an X-ray machine. (What, there are no female oncologists?)
The play's action is divided between the Clarke house and Addison's lab, where you get the sense he's more at home.
Mr. Ladmirault's Addison exudes a nerdy charm when talking about the giant squid and shows an understanding and affection that he lacks with his family. He's a man of misplaced passions who can't give the help his wife needs and can't make her see the importance of his work.
As Arthur Campbell, Sean Mullan is limited by the character, whose emotions range from brooding silence to silent intensity. He has an intimidating directness that is ominous — even when he helps Marina, he never gives the impression that he's altruistic — but the monosyllabic dialogue seriously undercuts it.
One standout aspect of the production is Brian Keating's sound design. It captures wonderfully the hypnotic monotony and power of the pounding surf, and, tellingly, its relentlessness.

**
WHAT: "The Muckle Man"
WHERE: The Source Theatre Company, 1835 14th St. NW
WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through Aug. 26
TICKETS: $20, $15 for students and seniors
PHONE: 202/462-1073
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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