Matthew Spangler and Benjamin Evett have turned this very long story poem into a fascinating drama featuring Mr. Evett as the narrator, the mariner and every other character. As directed by Rick Lombardo, this Albatross is uneven in its storytelling, but still totally involving, mostly due to Evett’s tireless performance. This dramatization of the famous, previously much maligned poem, strips away the clichés and finds its dramatic heart.
Albatross begins uneasily with Evett chattering away in Italian, then Russian and what sounded like Gaelic. Why he and his co-writer thought this would ingratiate him with the audience with is a secret only they know.
The GPS of a cell phone from an audience member locates him in NYC, causing him to switch to English. Starting with that unnecessarily glib approach gives him the hard task of having to change the mood and pull the audience into the wild and woolly tale of adventures on the open seas in a period in which seafaring wasn’t for the faint-hearted.
His task is rendered easier by Garrett Herzig’s lighting and many period-perfect projections (Bristol, the sea, the albatross, etc.) and Lombardo’s sound design which gives audible life to the creaking ship, the waves, the cannons blasting, birds singing and the chatter of the crew. Cristina Todesco’s take on a sailing ship, complete with tackle, rigging and sails, gives Evett a malleable playing area.
What Evett delivers—using ample quotes from the poem and robust contributions from himself and Spangler—is a terrifying inside look of the Mariner’s experiences, beginning with being hijacked by a friend at a pub. He breathlessly illuminates what the day-to-day life was like with lurid descriptions of illnesses and exciting second-by-second reports of battles with other ships.
The Mariner character has often been accused of being flat and lacking in detail, but Evett’s performance brings the audience onto the ship with all its starry wonders and disgusting hygiene. As a navigator, his skills are in demand and his contribution to a successful battle against a Spanish Galleon is hair-raising and desperately sad, a battle that will come back to haunt them all.
The titled bird first makes an auspicious appearance helping the Mariner and the crew out of a tight situation, but starvation and thirst rear their ugly heads followed by suffering and death of not only the human crew but animals they abduct from their natural habitats to please the whims of the Mariner’s captain.
As the play lingers in a dark mood, more and more of Coleridge is quoted to great effect leading the Mariner down a vortex of horror that even making it back home cannot assuage. Evett is left a sweating, morally vexed outcast as he is forced to contemplate his losses.
Rick Lombardo’s direction keeps what might have been an old-fashioned, melodramatic plot from bogging down, carefully fashioning what might have been hard-to-take clichés into real-life drama.
Albatross (through February 12, 2017)
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, in Manhattan.
For tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit http://www.59E59.org
Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission