There's a lot to like in the two-character drama The Sea Horse, written by Edward J. Moore and presented by South Park Theatre. It's a love story that doesn't make you feel like you've just swallowed a bottle of corn syrup, and it's a quiet tale that, instead of banging you over the head, forces you to climb into the frame.
Gertie is a hard-bitten woman as beaten-down and broken as the weather-worn bar she runs on a California seaport. Gertie's seen it all, liked none of it, and won't be dealing with anyone trying to make her see anything else.
And that anyone is Harry, a seaman of limited intelligence but an unlimited ability to dream. It's true that Harry's dreams may be small -- a family and a fishing boat of his own -- but if he can't attain it, he's not about to let anyone stop him dreaming it.
And that anyone is Gertie, of course. There's really no mystery as to how it all turns out, but Moore's done such a good job creating characters to care about that you find yourself rooting for the obvious.
What I enjoyed most about Moore's play is that it all happens in the subtext. It's very rare that these characters actually say directly what they want, but in their silences or evasions Moore lets us know the precise need driving them forward.
A play filled with subtext is, of course, terrifically dependent on the company telling the tale; it's all about how to make the hidden obvious without, as it were, making it obvious.
While South Park Theatre may never quite locate the essential honesty in Moore's writing, director Dek Ingraham and actors Mary Randolph and Michael Shahen present a solid production that gets the playwright's story across with passion and dignity. The three tend to rush by the quiet beats in the script -- a lot of this play is about letting silences build until they burst -- but Randolph and Shahen do a terrific job of making us understand the hunger for human contact and love consuming their characters from the inside.
Liam Macik's set (with onstage rainfall!) is impressive, although its purposeful theatricality doesn't quite sync up with the script.
I saw the show opening night, and it's definitely one which will ripen with time. The South Park production is close, and bound to get only closer.
The Sea Horse continues through Oct. 12. South Park Theatre, Corrigan Drive and Brownsville Road, South Park. 412-831-8552 or www.southparktheatre.com