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'Sea Horse' drifts, and doesn't feel current

Much of the goings-on in Edward J. Moore's play ''The Sea Horse" represent a peculiar mix of seediness and sentimentality. The title is a nod to creatures that mate for life and the name of a downscale coastal watering hole where many a sea-drenched and bourbon-soaked sailor has spent an evening. Unfortunately, there's not much to hook an audience's attention in this rudderless Nora Theatre Company production.

Moore's 1974 script shows its age, not because of the words used, but because of the way the two characters reveal themselves through painfully detailed mini-monologues delivered at painfully regular intervals. Director Normi Noel doesn't help matters much; every mini-monologue about a character's past is delivered off into the ether, with the head tipped just so.

Inside the bar is Gertrude Blum, a saltier-than-thou bartender who has operated the Sea Horse on her own for many years. Harry Bales is one of the many seamen who frequent her bar. As the play begins, Harry has returned from a two-month trip and wants to talk seriously with Gertrude about the future of their relationship.

The entirety of Moore's play is made up of their push-pull conversation. The dialogue is hardly a dance; it's more like a tussle, and an occasionally violent one at that. Actors Barby Cardillo and Mark Peckham fade in and out of effectiveness as they wind through Moore's dramatic exercises that double as dialogue. Cardillo is a pained and skeptical Gertrude. She captures the erratic nature of a person long abused, but her character is laden with so much back story that the present seems secondary. Peckham fares a bit better as Harry, who's trying to convince Gertrude of his love and trustworthiness. The character is designed to be a simple man struggling to articulate complicated thoughts. It's a shame Peckham equates thinking with pausing, because it lets too much space in where action should be.

Eric Levenson designed a naturalistic set with great amounts of detail, including aged wood and a barroom floor that never looks clean. Despite this, Noel's staging is less than innovative. In a room full of stools and cafe chairs, the actors do an inordinate amount of awkwardly sitting atop tables. If there's a director's oath, the first line should be, ''First, do no harm." Not sure Noel has taken it lately.

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