“Sea Marks”
by Gardner McKay

at The Irish Repertory Theatre

Xanthe Elbrick and Patrick Fitzgerald.
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Review by Iris Greenberger

Playwright and actor Gardner McKay wrote so lovingly about the sea in “Sea Marks” that I felt sure that it somehow must have been in his blood. My suspicions were confirmed: not only was McKay the great-grandson of shipbuilder Donald McKay, he was also an experienced sailor by the time he starred as Adam Troy in the television series “Adventures in Paradise,” playing a captain who sailed the South Pacific in a schooner.

Written in 1971, “Sea Marks” is set in Cliffhorn Heads, a western island in Ireland, and Liverpool. Colm Primrose (Patrick Fitzgerald), a middle-aged herring and mackerel fisherman, lives alone in a small stone cottage. Content with his simple life that revolves around the sea, he has never married nor even traveled past Galway. He musters up the courage to write a letter to Timothea Stiles (Xanthe Elbrick), a pretty woman whom he met briefly two winters ago when she came to the island to attend a family wedding. Raised on a farm in Wales, Timothea works in Liverpool for a book publisher.

Although Timothea has no recollection of Colm, the poetic language of his letters piques her interest and they correspond regularly with each other for more than a year before she returns to the Heads, at Colm’s suggestion, for another wedding and to get better acquainted with him. It is his writing that initially draws Timothea to Colm—she says that he has a “touch of the poet” in him—and propels their relationship forward to her apartment in Liverpool.

Director Ciaran O’Reilly makes the most of a beautifully written, evocative script and a pair of top-notch actors who match the quality of the writing. Patrick Fitzgerald and Xanthe Elbrick are wonderful and totally natural as the couple who find each other despite being from very different worlds. Fitzgerald conveys the roughness and the sensitivity of Colm, and Elbrick is equally convincing as the lonely but ambitious Timothea. Charlie Corcoran’s lovely scenic design allows us to simultaneously see Colm’s sparse living quarters and Timothea’s city flat as they read each other’s letters aloud

Gardner McKay writes about a much simpler time, when old-fashioned letter writing was the way that people corresponded over long distances and developed deep relationships. In “Sea Marks,” he shows us that in the right author’s hands, a heartfelt, handwritten letter is a poetic art form that can be the spark for a serious romance.

Sea Marks” continues through June 15 at The Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street, Manhattan; 1-212-727-2737; www.IrishRep.org