Ever since humans discovered seashores, we have told stories about beings half like us and half like the creatures of the sea.
Some say these tales express our feelings of kinship, especially with mammals like seals, dolphins. Some hear an undertone of longing, perhaps for the deeps of our first home, where our oldest ancestors lived before crawling up onto the land.
One of the four pieces incubated at Son of Semele’s Company Creation Festival this year is The Dryway: A Merfolk Opera. On the small blackbox stage, three women speak, enact and sing a tale of a mermaid queen’s three daughters, who are banished from the sea.
Palatyne is exiled to a jungle mountain, Melior to the polar ice, and Melusine to a desert motel. Palatyne struggles to climb the mountain and survive; Melior forges a telepathic bond with a sailor frozen in the ice; and Melusine endures a series of lovers and abusers.
They tell their tale in poetry and song. The spoken words are sometimes choral, sometimes monologs; the songs (backed by varied instruments) are sometimes trios, sometime solos, and often ironic. The complex sound design (by Yiannis Christofides) holds all of this together. Simple, effective choreography (by Kestrel Farin Leah) keeps the story in constant motion, and the spare costumes (Kate Fry) shift easily to mark changes.
As Palatyne, A’Raelle Flynn-Bolden becomes steadily more feral and mammalian, evolving from a fearful castaway to the apex predator. Megan Rippey’s sharp-tongued Melior grows more and more serene and accepting, almost beatific, in her frozen world. And as Melusine, writer/director Emma Zakes Green stumbles closer and closer to wisdom among the humans (and does a wicked Johnny Cash).
Wit and comic insight decorate this tale like foam on a wave, but the ancient tides of yearning are always there. And when the crisis comes, these long-exiled sea women cannot simply dive back into innocence.
The Dryway has much to say about the trials of being a woman, and becoming fully human; much also about the way our wounds and limitations can become our gifts and strengths. But all of this runs silent, like the ocean’s currents, below a fast-moving and constantly entertaining surface.
The members of The Outpost came together fairly recently at Cal Arts. I hope developing this play at Son of Semele has so enchanted them that they’ll continue collaborating.
The Dryway: A Merfolk Opera, written and directed by Emma Zakes Green.
Presented by The Outpost at the Son of Semele Theater, 3301 Beverly Blvd., LA 90004.
Saturday, Feb. 13 at 8:00;
Sunday, Feb.14 at 5:00.
Tickets: <https://sonofsemele.secure.force.com/ticket/> or (213)351-3507.