Sea Wall/A Life
80

Sea Wall/A Life NYC Reviews and Tickets

80%
(139 Reviews)
Positive
86%
Mixed
13%
Negative
1%
Members say
Great acting, Absorbing, Great writing, Intense, Thought-provoking

About the Show

Academy Award nominee Jake Gyllenhaal ("Sunday in the Park with George" and Tony Award nominee Tom Sturridge ("1984") make their Public Theater debut in an intimate evening of solo work.

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Member Reviews (139)

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48
So disappointing, Slow, Boring

See it if you want to say you have seen Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge up close. I suggest, though, that you wait for another venue.

Don't see it if desire to see a play that has something new to say. Don't see it if you are expecting an engaging play. Read more

Critic Reviews (32)

The New York Times
February 14th, 2019

"Beautifully acted double bill...The way Stephens lets dread creep into the story like morning light, and grow until it fills the otherwise nearly empty stage, makes this a ripping yarn in more ways than one...It may be that Mr. Payne was too close to the material to let it go where it needed to...But even if 'A Life' is a bit of a comedown from “Sea Wall,” the two make smart companions."
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New York Magazine / Vulture
February 15th, 2019

“The two monologue plays...are, on their own, elegant, vulnerable pieces of writing. Directed with assured simplicity and without soppiness...they’re solid examples of their form...They’re also not a particularly intrepid piece of programming...While it might well move us, doesn’t challenge us theatrically...Not because Sturridge and Gyllenhaal aren’t doing tender, deeply felt work — they are — but because...things feel cathartic and safe.”
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The Hollywood Reporter
February 14th, 2019

"It's a subject to which all of us can sadly relate, making the evening as painfully harrowing as it is engrossing...The plays are subtly linked in terms of language as well as subject matter...Staged in appropriately minimalist and powerful fashion by Carrie Cracknell on a mostly bare stage, the superbly acted double-bill provides a vital reminder that life is all too fleeting."
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Entertainment Weekly
February 14th, 2019

"Where 'Sea Wall/A Life' fumbles the smallest bit is really concretely tying the two halves together — the works are thematically similar and there are little bits and pieces of dialogue that, if you are paying close attention, link them together. But if you aren’t, the ending might fall a bit flat. All in all, though, that’s a very minor complaint for an evening that will emotionally wreck you, convince you of Sturridge’s acting prowess, and further consider that Gyllenhaal is one of the finest actors of his generation."
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Variety
February 14th, 2019

"The writing in these separate monologues is excellent, as are the solo performances by Tom Sturridge and Jake Gyllenhaal. But this is no show to see on a first date...There’s pleasure to be had at the sound of pretty prose, and it’s a joy to watch two fine actors perform in flawless character. But it might take a couple of stiff drinks to get the ashen taste of death out of your mouth."
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The Observer
February 14th, 2019

"Exquisitely played by Tom Sturridge and Jake Gyllenhaal....The effect is raw and wrenching...On the surface, both monologues are about what we make of grief—how we assimilate it into life without going mad—but they’re really about what grief makes of us...Directed with keen sensitivity by Carrie Cracknell on an artfully drab set...'Sea Wall/A Life' is not what you’d call an uplifting experience, contemplating the sour mystery of extinction and the indifference of the universe."
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Deadline
February 14th, 2019

"Tom Sturridge and Jake Gyllenhaal deliver scorching performances that can stand alongside anything on the New York stage so far this season...Our earlier encounter with the grieving dad of 'Sea Wall' has prepared us for anything, so there’s real terror in 'A Life‘s' minute-by-minute of an anything-could-go-wrong scenario. Birth and death, we’re shown, are equally precious. They are, simply, life."
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Chicago Tribune
February 14th, 2019

"Would be heavy-duty monologues experienced individually. Seen together under the unstinting direction of Carrie Cracknell, they’re enough to make you want to quit your job and run naked through the streets...Stephens knows how to seduce you with the quotidian...You’re watching such formidable writing, action and direction that the artifice of the theater is easy to forget...By all means, go for these insights. And then inure yourself against such painful truths with a stiff post-show drink."
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AM New York
February 14th, 2019

"This could have been an inspired idea...The idea of bringing the monologues together ultimately is also questionable. The fact that they are so similar has the unintended effect of creating a sense of repetition and monotony following the intermission. Also problematic is the fact that the monologues should really be performed in a more intimate setting."
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Theatermania
February 14th, 2019

“A pair of monologues sure to leave you thinking about life and death...Sturridge gives Alex a multitude of tics...It all feels calculated, and we can see the wheels turning in his head...The second piece is the stronger of the two, thanks to a combination of clearer writing and more restrained acting...Gyllenhaal brings natural affability to the role, telling this highly relatable story with simple earnestness...There's sadness in both stories, but only one of them feels like a real tragedy.”
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BroadwayWorld
February 15th, 2019

“The Public's beautifully acted double-bill...Both portrayals of a man struck by personal tragedy, and how they handle the grief that follows, are performed directly to the audience...Sturridge’s Alex is a tense young man given to dart about aimlessly...As played by Gyllenhaal in ‘A Life,’ Abe appears to be adjusting better to his loss...Though ‘A Life’ is less eventful than ‘Sea Wall,’ it's the more universal of the two. And perhaps a bit comforting as well."
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Lighting & Sound America
February 15th, 2019

“’Sea Wall' begins with a touch of rhapsody and ends as a portrait of a hollowed-out soul...’A Life’ is cleverly put together and Gyllenhaal switches between stories and tones like a magician...The actors are the thing here, along with the words. Whether you prefer Sturridge's slow-burning intensity or Gyllenhaal's deceptively easy technical skill, both of them know how to serve their texts for maximum impact...One of the finest double acts in town.”
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Talkin' Broadway
February 14th, 2019

"Featuring richly-mined and heart-rending solo performances by Tom Sturridge and Jake Gyllenhaal...'Sea Wall' is decidedly the stronger of the plays, a devastating piece of writing that takes its central character into the void, and us along with him...Along with kudos to Sturridge and Gyllenhaal, much praise goes to director Carrie Cracknell, who has done outstanding work in revealing both the divergences and the intersections of these two superlatively performed solo works."
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New York Stage Review
February 14th, 2019

"Glaringly obvious ending aside, Simon Stephens’ play is pretty much what you’ve come to expect from the writer: dark, mysterious, and intellectual. Sometimes a bit too intellectual, in fact...Considering that Gyllenhaal has starred in two of Payne’s previous plays, it’s no surprise that he’s so at home in Abe’s skin. The surprise is how honest, sometimes brutally so, Payne can be."
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New York Stage Review
February 14th, 2019

"The two halves are tightly intertwined, but what makes them especially interesting is that while they are exercises in personal storytelling they are not actually personal, and though they paired they are not linked by a common voice...Masterfully constructed and beautifully performed, but it is as a meticulously constructed simulacrum of truth and revelation that it is perhaps most perfectly suited for our alternative-realities time...Both stories are sad, revelatory, and quite deeply moving."
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TheaterScene.net
March 8th, 2019

"The themes of life and death are on display in The Public Theater's riveting double bill, Sea Wall/A Life, two solo plays by British playwrights Simon Stephens and Nick Payne, respectively. Starring film and stage actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge, it reunites the two performers who previously appeared in the new film, Velvet Buzzsaw…Although not written to be companion plays, it is quite remarkable how well the two works dovetail with many of the same elements in common."
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CurtainUp
March 5th, 2019

"Sturridge and Gyllenhaal are indeed fine thespians and Stephens and Payne know how to write intelligent, meaningful dialogue...To their credit, neither actor showboats his role...Still, these delicate pieces belong in a more intimate setting...The similarity of their monologues presented right on top of one another somehow dramatically weakens rather than strengthens the connection."
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Front Row Center
February 15th, 2019

"In the latter there are a few laughs well-played by Gyllenhaal, but on the whole, it is a gloomy evening...In many ways this is a brave piece that compels us to watch, the way that videos go viral, or crowds gather to watch a fire. Except here the actual event is the man himself...Each of these might be compelling as short stories. Might be. I am not certain I would get through them, however, because there is not enough meat on these bones to keep me interested."
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Front Mezz Junkies
March 8th, 2019

"Both monologues tease out their tales with precision and expertise, diving back and forth between waves of grief and joy...'Sea Wall.' It’s truly mesmerizing, pulling us towards his love and hurt like a strong undertow that will leave us gasping for air and battling the waves to survive...Payne’s 'A Life' doesn’t have the intense punch to the gut like Stephens’ 'Sea Wall,' even though both deliver the material with a clear sense of purpose. They do balance one another with a focused grace."
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Exeunt Magazine
February 17th, 2019

“‘Sea Wall’ is a grim piece...Little comfort is provided by Sturridge, who has a cold presence...Sturridge’s work is wonderfully precise–but something about him here just suggests oncoming doom...‘A Life’ solves the problem of numbing despair...Gyllenhaal is wonderfully moving...Matching nervy energy with wry amusement...Once followed by ‘A Life’, the numbing effect of ‘Sea Wall’ starts to feel more apt...There is an unspoken throughline, lightly suggested in Cracknell’s simple staging.”
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C
February 14th, 2019

"Of course, this unusual evening has another target audience: fans of the British actor Tom Sturridge and the American heartthrob Jake Gyllenhaal. Unsurprisingly, both men are to be commended for their commitment to these difficult pieces, their immersion in their characters, and their singular ability to command the stage, never letting the audience's minds wander."
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Theatre's Leiter Side
March 3rd, 2019

"Both plays examine issues of…fatherhood, both move freely back and forth in time, both include traumatic events, and both ask existential questions about the meaning of life. They capture moods and incidents in natural-sounding, yet poetically suggestive prose, but, while they explore strong feelings, they possess little dramatic tension… Fans…will appreciate the chance to see these stars in the flesh…I would have preferred to have had the distraction of dramatic action."
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The Wrap
February 14th, 2019

"Nick Payne and Simon Stephens do their respective one-act monologues no favors by putting them together on a double bill. Even the starry solo turns of Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge can’t relieve the monotony of seeing Stephens’ 'Sea Wall' and Payne’s 'A Life' back to back with an intermission...Carrie Cracknell directs 'Sea Wall' with a minimum of fuss. She makes up for that minimalism by pulling out every directorial cliché to stage 'A Life.'"
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The Stage (UK)
February 14th, 2019

“This double bill allows audiences the opportunity to see two great actors starring in intimate solo shows by playwrights with which they have a creative history...Both actors are comfortable with the rhythms of each playwright’s use of language, and the way the writing shifts, sometimes suddenly, between life and death, joy and pain...Cracknell directs an intense, precisely calibrated production...The result is a transfixing and beautiful evening of intimate storytelling.”
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Stage Left
February 15th, 2019

“A unique offering....While beautiful and raw, neither is particularly remarkable on its own, but together they form a unified if redundant evening about facing grief and encountering personal tragedy...Both actors excel, though Gyllenhaal clearly has the better piece...Two well-written and performed pieces of storytelling, even if a less charitable view might see it as nothing more than a marquee cash cow more deserving of an intimate space.”
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Daily Beast
February 14th, 2019

"These are more radio short stories, standing monologues, than anything more or bigger. And so they suffer slightly, because here we are in a theater watching the brilliant Gyllenhaal and Sturridge delivering respectable but somehow too-restrained one-man shows...There are no twists. The characters do not surprise us. To reference another duality, it’s odd that two short plays about such big themes should end up feeling small."
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Financial Times (UK)
February 14th, 2019

"'Sea Wall: Sturridge brings subtle emotional texture to the role, even if he sometimes talks too quickly...Rather soapy. Accidents do happen of course, but building an entire play around one tends to emphasise the artifice of the medium...'A Life' tugs at our heartstrings more gently. Jake Gyllenhaal here gives an engaging performance...Those overlapping tales unfold predictably without lurching into sentimentality...Cracknell directs both monologues with a sure touch."
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Newsday
February 14th, 2019

"The evening is intimate and shattering — two fine actors baring their souls on an almost empty stage...two raw monologues that will tear your heart out...Director Carrie Cracknell wisely gives each actor room to simply have a conversation with the audience. Sturridge highlights his by frequent pauses and stunning moments in which he simply stares into space. Gyllenhaal is more frenetic (in a good way) as he segues between the two storylines."
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T
February 19th, 2019

"For theatergoers looking to watch fine actors take on serious and depressing fare, there are rewards in 'Sea Wall/A Life.' If both parts were equal in quality, I would recommend giving this a try...I appreciated the opportunity to let these stories wash over me. I just wished I had been less disappointed. The two plays work well together thematically. One is just far more riveting."
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M
March 21st, 2019

"Both One Act plays are long soliloquies delivered by Sturridge and Gyllenhaal in which parallels can be drawn...'Sea Wall' is a tauter constructed play with stronger impact...In the play 'A Life,' Abe (Gyllenhaal)...Thrashes through rows and this gimmick detered from the feeling of intimacy maintained in 'Sea Wall'...The 2 One Acts together create a complex and intriguing production. However, 'Sea Wall' is the One Act that can stand alone."
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The Telegraph (UK)
February 18th, 2019

"An opportunity to see theatre at its most fundamental...'Sea Wall' is impressive, particularly in its use of imagery...'A Life’s' strength is in its specificity. Its quotidian details, many of which are drawn from Payne’s own life, gradually gain a persuasive and unexpected power...They speak to us in order to claw their way back into their lives. Neither man is completely successful in doing so, but by the end of the night our humanity is enlarged for bearing witness to the attempt."
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The Guardian (UK)
February 14th, 2019

"Together achieve a tonally ambitious mix of blunt truth and wistful, freewheeling evocation...The monologues are sufficiently distinct, though similar enough thematically to function successfully as companion pieces, totally disarming in the depth and intensity of the emotions they conjure...A refreshing and moving departure from male tropes; these characters are neither heroic nor antiheroic, and they’re not absent fathers, sons and husbands."
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