- by Erik Ehn
Review by Robert Hurwitt in SF Chronicle July 15, 2003
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- Teen angst abounds in mermaid tale
- Yet "'Maid" charms with grit and wit
- The mermaids are alluring -- and yes, they sing each to each -- but
what happens to them in Erik Ehn's " 'Maid" isn't exactly a fairy
tale. Wounds are inflicted. Souls are lost. Spells are cast and hypnotic
song-chants sung. Mer- and air-maids tumble from above and splash about
the stage. There is no happy ending to these mermaids' tale. Tails are
slashed open to form legs and legs mutilated to turn tail.
- It's charming, too, in the inventive Crowded Fire Theater Company world
premiere that opened Saturday at the tiny Exit Stage Left in San Francisco.
Playfully and beautifully staged by Crowded Fire artistic director Rebecca
Novick, hauntingly accompanied by composer David Rhodes and beguilingly
performed, Ehn's modern fable manages to be wistfully gritty, humorously
sad and, somehow, translucently opaque.
- An intensely poetic, allusive writer, Ehn doesn't intertwine the separate
stories of " 'Maid" so much as layer them atop one another. Actions
and interactions are often implied rather developed. Puns -- on the tale
of a tail;
- on how "mermaids are made" -- carry a bit too much weight,
as if poetic resonance or arcane insights were encrypted in every homonym.
- Ehn interweaves the tale of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little
Mermaid" with a mirror-image contemporary story of teenage mermaid
aspirations and self- mutilation, with lyrical nods to T.S. Eliot's "The
Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" along the way.
- Novick responds with an equally imaginative and multilayered production,
featuring tempest-tossed aerial choreography by Dawn Frank and a richly
imaginative set by James Mulligan.
- We linger in the chambers of the sea beneath a weathered wooden dock
-- which is to say that the audience is seated on four sides of a square
playing space, covered with a thin film of water, onto which actors drop,
glide or swing from trapdoors in the dock planks above. Arrayed in the
colorful tail sheaths, seaweed tendrils and crisp earthly uniforms of Bree
Hylkema's costumes, the actors perform with mesmerizingly intense yet fancifully,
- In one story, a widow (Laura Hope) raises her daughter Amanda (Beth
Wilmurt) to be a mermaid so that she'll live 300 years and then painlessly
turn into sea foam, her loss of a human soul sparing her any problems in
an afterlife. Amanda, of course, falls in love with a drowning sailor (Jason
Wong). He survives and she tries to follow him to land, trading her voice
to a fish-witch (Mollena Williams) to gain legs and a single day a year
during which she can breathe air.
- As Amanda struggles to become human -- enduring a stint as a stunt
mermaid in the fish tank of a sleazy bar -- goth-teen Emily (Juliet Tanner)
and her boyfriend Edouard (Michael Dorado) engage in cutting rituals. These
escalate into Emily's desire to lacerate her flesh enough to make her legs
grow together on her way to becoming a mermaid. Edouard drops out (he decides
that keeping Sea-Monkeys is safer), but Emily perseveres (and eats his
- A chorus of acrobatic Daughters of the Air (Alexandra Creighton, Lea
Bender and Adam Chipkin) punctuates and comments upon the tale as the sailor's
intense, grieving mother (Greeta Ahart), searching for her son, and a sorrowful
naval officer (Robert Martinez) add emotional color. Composer Rhodes provides
accompaniment at a piano in the audience to mesmerizing, mystical passages
sung by the golden-toned Hope and Williams and some thrillingly wistful-expectant
duets by Wilmurt and Tanner.
- The action is engrossing but the story is a bit thin. Ehn seems to
aspire to provoke thought and achieve poignancy as well as entertain, but
" 'Maid" sometimes veers into preciousness in its wordplay and
doesn't develop its characters fully enough to achieve an emotional connection.
- That scarcely matters in Novick's invigoratingly imaginative production.
She plays to the script's whimsical and wistful strengths, with inventive
directorial touches that complement Ehn's verbal ingenuity. And she's anchored
the text in the engrossing performances of a first-rate ensemble that frames
the unsettling tough-teen determination of Tanner's Emily and the tendril-
wispy hopes and uncomprehending but irresistible dedication of Wilmurt's
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