Monday, February 1, 2016

The Dryway: A merfolk opera (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Son of Semele is a theatre group I've only reviewed once before, and felt astounded by the glory that was Our Class.  I eagerly looked forward to The Dryway hoping for more of the same. This show is part of the Son of Semele's Company Creation Festival.

Oh my.  I felt thunderstruck.

The Dryway (A merfolks opera) turned out to be a three-woman show blending song, poetry, dance and performance art into a retelling of Melusine, the medieval legend of a mermaid banished from the ocean with her two sisters, Melior and Palantyne.  Although based on something from the middle ages, this hour-long performance roots itself into our sensibilities as well as a modern context.  In an obvious way, when Melusine--banished to a desert city in the world of men--listens to music, it is to Johnny Cash.  Likewise when their mother finally communicates to her, it is by phone.

Credit: Iliya Gegov
But more profoundly and subtly, we see this legend retold with a lens that includes our modern way of looking at things like forests and mountains, at identity and even death.  Tellingly, it contains the tales of all three sisters not just one--and does so from their point of view.

Palantyne (A'Raelle Flynn-Bolden) finds herself alone amid the brambles and wild animals of a mountain jungle, one where flesh is scratched and bitten but escape seems impossible.  But she grows strong and fierce, even as she misses her sisters and the feel of water to the point of madness. She even begins to forget her name.

Melior (Megan Rippey) is banished to the icy wastes of the arctic, with nothing but a frozen dead man for company.  Here day can last for weeks, the sun on the ice blinding her, so she can only feel the weeks-long night when it comes. She too changes, but is not alone--for her friend the dead man keeps her company, as she does to him, even as she slowly turns blue and moves gradually more slowly in the frozen lands.

Credit: Iliya Gegov
Melusine (Emma Zakes Green) really does seem to be in Las Vegas, a place where the only water she can find is chemical-laden swimming pools that burn. People are drawn to her, and she makes a home for herself, finding herself feeling that strange emotion so common to land-dwellers, hope.  But hope for what?

If all this sounds intriguing, then I've done my job in describing the show reasonably well--but while Green's script makes for a marvelous blueprint, the cast themselves (including the author) bring it to life.  The tale of three mermaids who pay a terrible price and change in unexpected ways does more than intrigue thanks to the performers.  They make us feel what the three sisters endure, what they believe at first about themselves and their mother, more importantly how they make their final choice.

As I wrote earlier--I was thunkerstruck.

Credit: Iliya Gegov
Not only because each actor showed the talent and focus to commit totally to this weird dreamlike world, but they brought each sister to life in such a way the climax--the moment of decision--seemed absolutely inevitable, courageous and tragic and utterly beautiful all at the same time.

Their mother offers in the end to let them come home, to return to the soothing sea.  But at a price--to forget all that has happened, to give up all they have learned and become.

One only had to have heard the souls given voice in the songs and words of this play to realize their answer before any spoke one word.

The Dryway (A merfolk opera) runs Saturday February 13 at 8pm, and Sunday February 14 at 5pm at 3301 Beverly Boulevard (@ Hoover) Los Angeles, CA 90004. With luck the show, by a new theatre group called The Outpost, will pop up elsewhere down the line.  Note:  The Dryway has now been extended to include March 18, 19, and 20.

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