Those seeking whimsical theatrical entertainment, especially one that takes full advantage of an intimate theater space, should take in this imaginative production.
From The Sea, To Somewhere Else by Monica Giordano. Directed by Noah Simes. Presented by Flotsam Productions at The Boston Center for the Arts, Plaza Theatre. Boston, MA, through July 23.
By Ian Thal
In a town on the coast of Somewhere Else, two days before her eighteenth birthday, Morissa (Lizzie Milanovich) and her boyfriend Jack (Chris Larson) watch a magic show. When the magician (Marc Hunter) calls for a volunteer, Morissa, much to Jack’s disapproval, approaches the stage. The magician quickly senses something magical about the young woman and lures the couple backstage. Gurtrudiana MacPherson Clearwater III (Kaylyn Bancroft) — an international villainess and hand model living incognito as the magician’s assistant — also recognizes that special something about Morissa: the girl is a mermaid in human form. In Monica Giordano’s delightfully entertaining comic-fantasy-adventure, mermaids are a valuable commodity in captivity. And, since mermaids have pledged never to lie, the couple find themselves pursued to the literal ends of the Earth – by train, jet plane, balloon, and boat – finally arriving at the gates of Poseidon’s Sea Glass Palace, where Morissa must return before her birthday or she will have to stay on the land forever.
From The Sea, To Somewhere Else is smartly written. Giordano uses the stereotypical genre tropes of fairy tales and adventure serials — fantastical creatures like mermaids are bound to clearly defined rules, heroes by the chivalry of fair play, and pirates by codes of honor — but taps into the zesty amusement these narrative devices held before audiences dismissed them as clichés. This is not to say that the script is purely an exercise in nostalgia. The playwright draws on a number of post-modern gestures: scenes are told out of order, and the narrators bicker amongst themselves about just what kind of play they are in. The result is both deconstructive and reconstructive, and most importantly – fun.
According to the playbill, “Flotsam Productions is a collaboration between Monica Giordano and [director] Noah Simes established for the sole purpose of mounting this production.” This sense of committed teamwork runs through all the aspects of the production. It is a common strategy for contemporary playwrights, when attempting to bring pop-culture genre entertainments to the stage, to imitate the pseudo-naturalistic storytelling approaches of television or film. In contrast, Giordano’s script demands stylized performances that take full advantage of the artificiality of theater, and in helming this production Simes fully embraces this challenge and proves himself not just to be a skilled director of actors, but of objects as well.
Becca Lehrhoff has designed the storyline’s geographically imprecise world out of found objects: loading palates, wooden crates, discarded ship’s wheels, and anchors are strewn about. Quilts and sheets hang on clotheslines; the feel is of a down-on-its-luck coastal village of the sort found in Fleischer Studios’ Popeye cartoons. These same props are frequently manipulated to create new tableaux – such as when cast members assemble themselves, along with buckets and rake combs, into a steam locomotive, or when two cans on a string become a radio, or a simple board becomes a ticket office. The audience becomes caught up in a joyful feeling of ‘let’s pretend.’
There’s also some fine fight design and tumbling (no choreographer is listed in the playbill so one is left guessing how much of this physicality is the work of the ensemble and how much is Simes’) which is no mean feat considering that the floor of the Plaza Theatre is concrete.
Milanovich and Larson share a fine chemistry and make for charismatic and earnest protagonists. Hunter is wonderfully over the top as both the showily menacing magician and as Skip, the silly sailor man, while Ryan Marchant’s eccentric balloon pirate, Ferdinand the Formidable, is colorfully flamboyant. But it is Bancroft’s Gertrudiana who steals the show every time – her villainy drives every scene in which she appears. In the song “Gertrudiana’s Lament,” an amusing ditty about how hard it is to be evil, Bancroft also reveals that she has a richly expressive singing voice. Michael Chodos and MacMillan Leslie round out the ensemble with an assortment of walk-on roles.
Though the play has its share of anachronisms, Elizabeth Rocha’s costume designs generally stick to early twentieth century fashions. The standouts are Gertrudiana’s get-ups, both her crimson and gold clad magician’s assistant outfit and her international assassin guises. And the magician’s outfit is also an eyeful. (I particularly admired the vest.)
Ian King’s lighting design nimbly evokes the waves of the ocean storms and the movement of trains thumping over steel rails. Andrew Duncan Will’s sound design and score do right by the protagonists and villainess as they race around the world from scene to scene – the music relies heavily on ragtime piano stylings, paying homage to the silent film era during action scenes.
For those seeking whimsical theatrical entertainment, especially one that takes full advantage of an intimate theater space, From The Sea, To Somewhere Else proffers a fantastical journey well worth taking. Unfortunately, the production is also scheduled for a short run (and less than a quarter of the seats were filled at the matinée I attended) so it’s best to board this ship before it sets sail for its final voyage.
Ian Thal is a playwright, performer, and theater educator specializing in mime, commedia dell’arte, and puppetry, and has been known to act on Boston area stages from time to time, sometimes with Teatro delle Maschere. He has performed his one-man show, Arlecchino Am Ravenous, in numerous venues in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. One of his as-of-yet unproduced full-length plays was picketed by a Hamas supporter during a staged reading. He is looking for a home for his latest play, The Conversos of Venice, which is a thematic deconstruction of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. Formerly the community editor at The Jewish Advocate, he blogs irregularly at the unimaginatively entitled The Journals of Ian Thal, and writes the “Nothing But Trouble” column for The Clyde Fitch Report.