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Now Opening: ‘Sea Wall/A Life’ Starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge on Broadway

Category Broadway

|by Ron Fassler |

The Public Theater’s star-studded monologues come to Broadway

The Public Theater has had a long and rich history since its humble beginnings in Central Park, when its Delacorte Theater opened in 1962. Bringing Shakespeare and other entertainments to the masses in a sumptuous 1800 seat outdoor space, the Public continues to entertain city residents and tourists from around the globe every summer. But summers weren’t enough to contain Joseph Papp’s dream of bringing classical theater to the masses, which grew more ambitious, leading to his transformation of the old Astor Library on Lafayette Street in the East Village into a performing arts center in 1967. Now, five decades later, it boasts five theaters, as well as a cabaret space (Joe’s Pub). And when those theaters (none larger than 275 seats) would produce shows with ticket demands far exceeding those spaces, plays and musicals moved uptown. Those legendary transfers include Sticks and Bones (1972), That Championship Season (1973), A Chorus Line (1975), Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk (1994), Fun Home (2013) and Hamilton (2015). All told, its progeny total 54 Tony Awards, 154 Obies and 5 Pulitzer Prizes – and counting.

Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Sea Wall/A Life’ on Broadway (Photo: Richard Hubert Smith)

Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Sea Wall/A Life’ on Broadway (Photo: Richard Hubert Smith)

Now comes another notable transfer titled Sea Wall/A Life, consisting of two one-act plays (twinned monologues), created by two British playwrights, Simon Stephens and Nick Payne. After opening at the Public this past May to enthusiastic reviews, the demand for tickets made it a logical choice for the show to seek a Broadway house for a run uptown. Having re-opened last week (once again to excellent reviews), it is playing at the Hudson Theatre on West 44th Street in what will only be a nine-week limited run due to the film commitments of its two stars: Tom Sturridge and Jake Gyllenhaal.

The two actors bring to this production an intimacy with their respective playwrights. Sturridge made his professional London stage debut in Stephens’s Punk Rock in 2009, and Gyllenhaal has appeared on the New York stage in two plays by Payne, If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet (2012) and Constellations (2015). Sturridge and Gyllenhaal also shared the screen together in the recent Netflix original Velvet Buzzsaw. Sturridge began his career as a child actor and appeared in a 1996 TV version of Gulliver’s Travels, filmed when he was ten years old, and directed by his father, as well as co-starring his mother (Charles and Matilda Sturridge). His film work includes playing Carol Marx in the 2011 film adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, and he was nominated for a Tony Award as Best Actor in the 2013 revival of Lyle Kessler’s Orphans, opposite Alec Baldwin and Ben Foster. He also starred on Broadway in 2017’s 1984, where he gave a forcefully intense performance.

Jake Gyllenhaal needs little introduction. Also a child actor, he made his acting debut at age eleven as Billy Crystal’s son in 1991’s City Slickers. Subsequent roles followed which led to bigger and better things, including an Academy Award nomination for 2005’s Brokeback Mountain, and recent films such as Nightcrawler, Nocturnal Animals and this year’s Spider-Man: Far from Home (as the villainous Mysterio). Over the past decade, in addition to his film work, he has found time for a number of prominent stage productions, not only in drama, but in musicals, with his performance in Sunday in the Park with George in 2016 garnering him sterling notices.

Beautifully directed by Carrie Cracknell (in her Broadway debut), Sea Wall/A Life are stark and deeply personal dramas (I saw the show at the Public in February). I have no intention of going into what these monologues are about as to spoil the surprises and revelations but trust me: all you need to know is that bringing some tissues is highly recommended. Both Sturridge and Gyllenhaal are flawless, and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if it is filmed for one of the streaming services that are becoming increasingly smart enough to preserve certain shows that work perfectly broadcast exactly as they are performed on stage with little to no adjustments.

So, if you like your theater live (which is something of an oxymoron), and these two wonderful actors appeal to you, find the time over the next two months to visit the Hudson Theatre and take in Sea Wall/A Life. The strictly limited engagement closes September 29th.

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