New York | Ends Mar 31

Sea Wall/A Life

From 32 critic and 107 member reviews
Members say: Great acting, Absorbing, Intense, Great writing, Slow

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. More…

Sturridge, in his third collaboration with Tony and Olivier Award winner Simon Stephens ("Heisenberg," "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time"), performs "Sea Wall," a monologue about love and the human need to know the unknowable. 

Gyllenhaal continues his artistic collaboration with Olivier Award-nominated playwright Nick Payne ("Constellations," "If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet") in "A Life," a meditation on how we say goodbye to those we love most. 

Lighting & Sound America

“’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.” Full Review


"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." Full Review

The Stage (UK)

“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.” Full Review

The Hollywood Reporter

"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." Full Review

The Observer

"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." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"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." Full Review

Chicago Tribune

"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." Full Review


"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." Full Review

New York Stage Review

"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 movin... Full Review


"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." Full Review

The Guardian (UK)

"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." Full Review

Entertainment Weekly

"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 fin... Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

"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." Full Review

The New York Times

"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." Full Review


"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." Full Review


"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." Full Review

The Telegraph (UK)

"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." Full Review


“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.” Full Review


“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." Full Review

Melinda's Malarky

"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." Full Review

Exeunt Magazine

“‘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.” Full Review


"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." Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

“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.” Full Review

Financial Times (UK)

"'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." Full Review

Stage Left

“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.” Full Review

Must see, Masterful, Great writing, Great acting, Ambitious

See it if you want an amazing, life changing acting performance

Don't see it if you've recently had a death in the family or do not want to see something that deeply questions life and death

Great acting, Exquisite, Absorbing

See it if Excellent performances by two great actors. Two beautifully written one act monologues about life, love, and loss.

Don't see it if The sadness of stories of loss will be too painful. They are compellingly and truthfully told.

Intelligent, Masterful, Heart-wrenching, Absorbing, Excellent acting

See it if you love to see two very beautiful and heartbreaking monologues acted by two of the finest actors on stage and screen today.

Don't see it if you do not want to be depressed. The themes are heart wrenching.

Also Tom Sturridge gave such a strong, beautiful, emotive, nuanced, effecti... Read more Read less

Gut-wrenching, Great acting, Great writing

See it if you're into smart one-acts about big themes of love, loss, and life, excellently written and acted, creating a memorable theater experience.

Don't see it if you don't feel like a devastating night of theater, get emotional easily, hate one-man shows or expect staging that's less stationary.

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent

See it if I would hope everyone would want ot see Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturriidge. each presents a one act monologue. They both are brilliant.

Don't see it if If you don;t like monologues and if your don;t like plays about life and death.

Also I would not miss this play. It is beautifully performed.

Rawness and vulnerable, Masterful, Thought-provoking, Great acting, Absorbing

See it if You enjoy great acting and great story telling in an intimate setting where the vulnerability of the characters is absorbing and mesmerizing

Don't see it if You only like fluffy theater, musicals or multiple character plays.

Heart-wrenching, Intense, Great writing, Great acting, Absorbing

See it if you want to see two great actors each deliver a well written monologue; plays tied together by themes of birth, love, loss and death

Don't see it if You don't care for one-person plays; you will be too emotionally drained by depressing themes; you have recently had a family loss.....

Absorbing, Great acting, Masterful, Resonant, Riveting

See it if you want to see two brilliant actors deliver serious monologues, if you are a fan of Jake Gyllenhaal or Tom Sturridge.

Don't see it if you don't like monologues, you don't like heavy subject matter involving death and parenthood.

Poignant story-telling, Moving, Well-acted by complementary performers, Heartfelt, Richly-engaged in human experiences of loss, love, and life itself

See it if you can put aside the fact that these monologues are a bit predictable and simply allow yourself to enjoy two fine, earnest performers.

Don't see it if two emotion-fest, 45-minute monologues about family life and death are unappealing; you need something more surprising than men's musings.

Also With minimalist staging for maximum focus upon stories, the combinatio... Read more Read less

Riveting, Profound, Intelligent

See it if You want to see two excellent actors doing two beautifully written monologues .

Don't see it if Powerful messages of life and death are too intense to listen to.

Also I went with 2 friends and all 3 of us were very deeply moved by this p... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Exquisite, Great acting, Expert direction, Profound

See it if You want to see outstanding actors deliver astutely written, emotionally resonant monologues that are linked in theme and tone.

Don't see it if You don’t like shows that explore darker themes in order to provide insight about life and the human condition.

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Masterful, Relevant

See it if You like moving story telling by two fine actors

Don't see it if You don’t want to hear stories About love and death

Thought-provoking, Great acting, Entertaining, Absorbing

See it if you enjoy one man shows of talented actors

Don't see it if you dislike depressing theatrical pieces

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Profound, Dark

See it if Well written stories about love, life, joy and death; terrific acting by both actors in each of their 45 minute monologues.

Don't see it if you are not interested in monologues or plays depicting deep feelings of isolation and sorrow.

Also I appreciate the choice of a large, sweeping stage for such an intimat... Read more Read less

Meaty, Intense, Great acting, Ambitious, Absorbing

See it if you're a fan of Gyllenhall & Sturridge, enjoy short serious monologues, can deal with themes of death & grief, willing to listen

Don't see it if Don't like one person acts, have trouble dealing with subjects of death and grief, don't enjoy plays where you have to listen carefully

Resonant, Thought-provoking, Great acting

See it if To see 2 good actors acting in monologues.

Don't see it if The subject matter was not new and if you don't like to see monolgues.

Great acting, Absorbing

See it if Jake Gyllenhaal. Tom Sturridge. A bare stage that is anything but bare.

Don't see it if 2 monologues requires focus, not fir everyone

Great acting, Great writing, Emotional, Absorbing

See it if You enjoy monologues that are straight from the heart. Sea Wa ll is tightly and beautifully written by Simon Stephens, well acted by Tom S.

Don't see it if You don’t like one person monologues that are deeply personal and emotional. Great performances by both actors.

Resonant, Heartbreaking, Great writing, Great acting, Absorbing

See it if Two tour de force one-man shows dealing with the universal themes of birth and death. Doesn’t go where you’d think.

Don't see it if ...emotionally harrowing stories upset you. The play starts off as an easy-going tale and ends up in a very different place.

Absorbing, Great acting, Great writing

See it if you want to see two strong actors in well written long-form monologues

Don't see it if you don't like 1 person shows. A Life also erratically jumps between trains of thought

Great acting, Absorbing, Great writing

See it if you get drawn in by emotional highs and lows, you are a fan of the actors and want to see them live.

Don't see it if you do not like one-man shows, you have a hard time following multiple stories that jump around, you want action - this is extremely static.

Absorbing, Great acting, Thought-provoking

See it if You appreciate solid acting and aren't bothered by minimal setting and monologues.

Don't see it if You have an aversion to emotional pieces.

Also Two fantastic actors (Tom Sturridge and Jake Gylenhaal) in two separat... Read more Read less

Profound, Thought-provoking, Great staging, Great acting, Absorbing

See it if To watch two dark monologues about life and death, intertwined into fragile threads of every day happenings. Joy v sadness.

Don't see it if You do not like to sit still for 45 minutes for each actor. Must pay rapt attention to each line of dialogue to follow storyline.

Also The two actors are Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge. Mr. Sturridge is... Read more Read less

A dark ride through the human condition, acting that is transcendent

See it if you are up for a painful encounter with the way we humans manage death, acted with consummate skill by two masters

Don't see it if you are not ready to feel the pain

Heart-wrenching, Intense, Great acting, Absorbing

See it if 2 monologues about life & death, loss; although similar topics differences in specifics & tone

Don't see it if you want happy endings, don't like monologues or minimalist sets

Also Both actors were excellent but I found the writing in "Sea Wall" more ... Read more Read less

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