Saturday, November 2, 2013

'The Patron Saint of Sea Monsters' Intrigues Like Underground Comix

You won’t find St. Martyrbride listed in any volume on the lives of Catholic saints, yet she figures prominently in The Patron Saint of Sea Monsters, the new and unusual play by Marlane Meyer now on view at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater at Playwrights Horizons.

St. Martyrbride springs from the mind of Aubrey Lincoln, the misfit heroine of the play—the only succor she has been able to cling to in a world that is, at best, indifferent to her.  Aubrey, played by Laura Heisler with just the right mix of dreaminess and a stubborn refusal to give in to the negativity of her surroundings, pins her faith on the belief that God, through her beloved saint, will unite her with her “soul mate,” the ne’er-do-well Calvin Little. 

Our hero, Calvin (well played by Rob Campbell), is the kind of man that a rebellious daughter would latch onto to spite her scornful mother, not unlike the one Aubrey has had to live with. Calvin is crude and lascivious, cannot hold down a job, consorts with low-life, and, on at least one occasion, has committed murder.

Ever the optimist, Aubrey, who has at least found academic success in life (she is a physician and runs a free clinic in the backwoods town of her upbringing), is determined to win Calvin’s heart and change his wicked ways. 

The story of these two lies at the heart of the play.  Over time, both change and grow, so that by the end of Act II it’s not out of place to be thinking in terms of catharsis and redemption. But be warned. This represents a huge shift in tone from most the play, which is performed in a style that would be right at home in one of those underground comix written by the likes of R. Crumb. 

The other characters in the play are an oddball assortment of…well…oddballs.  Mothers come off as particularly nasty pieces of business, but there is also the threatening presence of Calvin’s stepbrother Jack, a Crumb-like big-breasted prostitute, varied and strange townspeople, and occasional appearances by Jesus and St. Martyrbride herself. There are also many references to sexually transmitted diseases and drug and alcohol abuse, and members of the cast occasionally stop the action to speak directly to the audience about political corruption and corporate greed. 

So, while it is clear that The Patron Saint of Sea Monsters is not going to appeal to everyone, I have to say it is certainly compelling.  In addition to the strong performances by the two leads, the rest of the cast, under the direction of Lisa Peterson, does fine work as well. They are Candy Buckley, Danny Wolohan, Jacqueline Wright, and Haynes Thigpen—all of whom are required to play three or more characters and manage to make each of them unique. 

While the play could use some further trimming and shaping, one thought that occurred to me is that—in addition to its connection to the world of Mr. Crumb and his ilk—it has the feel of one of those B movies that later became successful musicals, like The Toxic Avenger or Little Shop of Horrors (whose heroine was named Audrey; could this be an intentional nod?)  I wonder if some composer might want to take this on.  I’d want to go back and see it again if that were to happen.

If The Patron Saint of Sea Monsters sounds intriguing, you might want to take advantage of an offer for discount tickets, though you’ll have to hurry because the discount ends on November 5.  Here’s the scoop:

DISCOUNT TICKETS TO THE PATRON SAINT OF SEA MONSTERS available for performances to Dec 1. Order by Nov. 5 and use the code SAINTBLOG to receive 
$40 tickets (reg. $60).
To order online:  Go to
By phone: 212-279-4200
In Person: Ticket Central Box Office, 416 W. 42nd Street 

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1 comment:

  1. I'd see it again even if I weren't turned into a musical. Great performances and writing.