Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Maid is a Provocative Production
Also see Richard's review of The Fall River Axe Murders; Literature in Performance
The Crowded Fire Theatre Company is one of San Francisco's more adventurous small companies. The company was formed five years ago and they have been presenting award winning cutting edge work in their small bandbox space at the Exit Theatre on Eddy Street, San Francisco. They are not afraid to take risks. The vigorous group is currently presenting the world premier of Erik Ehn's Maid, a provocative 90 minute one act mermaid fable that is haunting.
Maid transplants Hans Christian Andersen's famous Little Mermaid to a war torn industrial bay. Director Rebecca Novick expresses the play perfectly when she says "we have taken Ehn's mermaid play and put it under a dock, in the part of the ocean that we can all reach, where magic is just starting to appear." The post modern fable is about longing and it takes the audience on a journey into the depths of the sea and the depths of our most secret desires. It's about wanting very much to escape the restraints of a body, about the readiness to suffer anything for love. It's a play about magic and miracles.
Maid's stimulating plot is about a mother (Laura Hope) who raises her daughter Amanda (Beth Wilmurt) to be a mermaid. The mother explains that a mermaid lives 300 years and then turns painlessly into sea foam. The maid is not saddled with a soul, so she will have no problems in an afterlife. Amanda falls in love with a sailor (Jason Wong) who almost drowns. Amanda tries to follow him on land and makes a deal with a sea witch (Mollena Williams) to gain legs for one single day a year so she can breathe air and find her lover.
Amanda goes through all sorts of human problems, including being a caged mermaid in a fish tank in a sordid bar on a broken down dock. There is a second story involving gothic teen Emily (Juliet Tanner) and her boyfriend Edouard (Michael Dorado) who are in a weird and gory scene involving the cutting of wrist and legs with a razor blade. Emily wants to become a mermaid by slashing the flesh from her legs so they will grow together and she too can become a mermaid. Even Edouard thinks about becoming a merman but he chickens out and decides to stay on land.
Also involved in this allegory are a mournful naval officer (Robert Martinez) and an anguished mother looking for her son who was lost at sea. There is a Greek chorus consisting of "daughters of air" who are well played by Alexandra Creighton, Lea Bender and Adam Chipkin.
All of the actors are extraordinary in their performances. Laura Hope and Beth Wilmurt as mother and mermaid daughter are excellent in their roles. There are supernatural passages sung by these two accomplished actress/singers that are mystical. Juliet Tanner and Michael Dorado give skillful performances as the "cut-ups." Robert Martinez adds poignancy through his role of the sorrowful naval captain. Jason Wong as the sailor has little to do except swing around from the rafters of the stage and speak upside down.
James Mulligan's set is handsomely creative with the audience seated on the four sides of a square playing place with only one row facing the stage on three sides. The fourth side has two rows in this small bandbox of a theater. The floor is covered with a thin film of water about one inch deep. There are trapdoors in the dock planks above to give you the appearance that the action is happening underneath a rotting dock. The actors drop, sashay and swing from the doors.
Bree Hylkema's costumes are wonderful with the mermaids wearing colorful tail sheaths; some of the actresses have seaweed tendrils on their outfits. The lighting by Heather Basarab gives the mood of the sea. Choreography by Dawn Frank is very imaginative with an aerial ballet. Rebecca Novick direction is equally inventive and she is able to formulate interesting touches to complement the playwright's strange verbal creativity. Composer and pianist David Rhodes has created an ethereal score for the production
Maid played through August 16 at the Crowded Fire at Exit Stage Left, 156 Eddy Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-675-5995 or visit www.crowdedfire.org.