Wednesday, February 3, 2021


Edward J. Moore, Conchatta Farrell.

THE SEA HORSE [Comedy-Drama/Barroom/Romance/Two Characters] A: James Irwin [Edward J. Moore]; D: Marshall W. Mason; S: David Potts; C: Jennifer von Mayrhauser; L: Cheryl Thacker; P: Circle Repertory Company; T: Westside Theatre (OB); 4/15/74-8/4/74 (128)

Conchetta Farrell, Edward J. Moore.

This much admired play, produced by the Circle Rep, was the third in little more than a year to be transferred from an Off-Off to an Off-Broadway mounting. Author Edward J. Moore, who played Harry Bales, at first used the penname of James Irwin. He had his authorial billing changed only when, after the play’s successful Off-Broadway opening, the press learned of his contribution.

The Sea Horse was a perfect match for the deft naturalism in which Circle actors and their director, Marshall W. Mason, specialized. It was performed within a thoroughly realistic set of a West Coast waterfront saloon, the Sea Horse, presided over by the fat, feisty, but distrustful Gertrude Blum (Conchatta Ferrell). The only other character an employee named Harry Bales, who loves both fixing things and Gertrude Blum.

The action centers on his attempts to break down the independent-minded Gertrude’s defenses, and get her to acknowledge her affection for him so they can get married. He uses all the ploys at his disposal, especially humor, to expose her vulnerability. By the play’s end, a rapprochement seems entirely possible.

Moore succeeded in making his characters seem alive and interesting, and the acting and direction were perfectly complimentary to the dramatic needs. The major problems were said to include the overuse of naval machinery sound effects imitated by Harry as he describes them, and too artificial a recounting by Gertrude of her unhappy life’s experiences. The remainder, however, was “honest and intelligent in most ways, and the dialogue abounds in comic as well as serious felicities,” wrote John Simon. Walter Kerr, though, argued that the play, “briskly written and cagily acted,” was marred by “a strong sense of arbitrariness, a calculated rise and fall of temperature.”

Ferrell won an OBIE for Distinguished Performance, as well as a Theatre World Award and a Drama Desk Award. Moore was also honored by the Drama Desk, as Outstanding New Playwright.