Review: ‘Albatross’ Brings New Perspective to a Classic English Poem
By Megan Wrappe, Contributing Writer, January 23, 2017
In 1797-8, poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was so inspired by James Cook‘s second voyage of exploration (1772–1775) of the South Seas and the Pacific Ocean that he penned an original short story poem about a Mariner who’s shooting of an albatross brings him great misfortune. Entitled “Rhime of the Ancient Mariner,” it is now considered to be one of the poems that began the Romantic literature period in England. It is also the source material for Albatross, a new one-man show written by Matthew Spangler starring Benjamin Evett and directed by Rick Lombardo at 59E59 Theaters.
Albatross begins prior to Coleridge’s poem. In the poem, the Mariner stops a wedding guest as he enters the reception and begins telling him about how his ship sailed away from England only to wind up off course in arctic waters. But Albatross begins before the Mariner even arrives onboard his ship. In this story, the Mariner (Evett) has a family, a wife and a son. But like so many other people, his family life isn’t quite perfect. His son has recently become sick and the Mariner’s alcoholic wife is no help. So to get away from the mess at home, the Mariner does what any other man in his situation would do, he walks down to the local pub and gets a few pints. But he never returns home.
Instead, he is plagued with something in his drink which causes him to blackout, and upon awakening the next morning, he finds himself in the hull of a ship. With no other options at hand, he goes along with the plan and acts as the crew’s navigator. Things go well with no major disruptions until a major storm hits, blowing the ship completely off course. Soon, the crew starts seeing large mounds of ice and the temperatures drop significantly. The crew believes that they are doomed to be trapped here to freeze, but then, a magnificent albatross leads them to warmer waters. Thinking that they have been saved, the Mariner believes the bird has fulfilled its purpose and casually decides to shoot it. Little does he know that he just created his own demise.
Since Albatross is based on a classic British poem, you might think the production would have a classic feel to it, but instead, the production feels very modern. The story is classic, but through the use of modern technology, multimedia projections, strong sound effects, and a multipurpose set, the play feels of the moment. The audience doesn’t just see the Mariner tell his story, they feel it through the pictures he paints with his words, which are also abstractedly projected behind him, or by actually feeling the rain, enabling the audience to experience the Mariner’s world.
And there is no better actor to create this world than Benjamin Evett. The Mariner’s story is one of loss, rejection, anger, and atonement. It is a raw and emotional role to play, and Evett does so flawlessly by putting his whole heart and soul into the role. He plays the character so well, in fact, that by the end of the show, it feels as though he has forged a friendship with the audience, who is riveted by the tale. Considering the entire show is 80 minutes with no intermission, hats must be tipped for what is a top-notch performance, but what also must be an exhausting one.
Coleridge’s original poem is a testament to Romantic British poetry, but it is also a prime example of a true human story. Everyone can find something with which they identify in the Mariner’s story, whether it be a personal struggle, wanting to give up, or having truly regretted something in their life. That’s what you see on stage and why Evett deserves so much credit. At the end of the show, you leave with a new perspective, as if everything you thought was so terrible when you entered the theater, may not be so bad in retrospect. Albatross may be a very well-written sea tale, but it’s also a very good reminder that struggle is a part of life. As hard as life may be, we all find ways to navigate it. It is up to us to decide how our actions affect our future.
Albatross presented at 59E59 Theaters through February 12, 2017. By Matthew Spangler and Benjamin Evett. Presented by The Poets’ Theatre, Inc. & Michael Seiden. Directed by Rick Lombardo; featuring Benjamin Evett.
Cover: Benjamin-Evett in ‘Albatross;’ photo: Carole Goldfarb