Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Mermaid Hour: Remixed at Mixed Blood Theatre

The world premiere* production Mermaid Hour: Remixed is playing at Mixed Blood through April 29, and it's essential viewing. It's the intimate story of a family dealing with the challenges of adolescence. In this particular family, mom Pilar (Thallis Santesteban) and dad Bird (Michael Hanna) are trying to make the best decisions for and with their transgender daughter, Vi.
Vi (Azoralla Arroyo Caballero) and Jacob (Meng Xiong).
Photo by Rich Ryan.

Azoralla Arroyo Caballero plays Vi with touchingly realistic uncertainty, sweetness, and touches of rebellion in the young actor's professional theatrical debut. Vi's relationship with gay best friend Jacob (Meng Xiong) becomes strained when she develops a crush that isn't returned, and Vi finds comfort in an online community of "mermaids" whose videos encourage her to find beauty and happiness in herself. When Vi runs away, she finds the maker of those videos, who takes her back to her parents. As Crux, Catherine Charles Hammond shows great compassion for Bird and Pilar, and brings an otherworldly quality to the merperson Vi admires.

Crux/Merperson (Catherine Charles
Hammond). Photo: Rich Ryan.
Bird and Pilar have their own clashes about Vi's life, and also encounter Jacob's mother, Mika (Sheena Janson), who doesn't want her son's life to be any more complicated than it already is.

My favorite thing about the play is that there aren't any bad guys in David Valdes Greenwood's script. Each character is doing the best they can to navigate circumstances they don't always feel equipped to handle. And sometimes, especially with Bird and Pilar, the strain leads them to lash out at each other. Director Leah Anderson and the cast show us a variety of relationships, all nuanced and very real.

Bird (Michael Hanna), Pilar (Thallis Santesteban), and Vi
(Azoralla Arroyo Caballero). Photo: Rich Ryan.
Eric Mayson's music beautifully illustrates how people, even in loving relationships, can be talking but not really listening to one another. When the songs move from ideas sung in counterpoint to a more unified sound, we realize the individuals are coming to understand each other. The playwright's lyrics don't deal in heightened poetic language, but sound more like everyday speech that just needs to be sung.

Although Vi is at the center of the story, Mermaid Hour: Remixed tells us more about the thoughts and feelings of her parents than about Vi's. This feels appropriate, since Vi seems more sure of who she is, at least at this point in her life, than her parents do. Although the play gives voice to a multicultural family with a transgender child and has a wonderfully diverse group of characters, many viewers will find commonalities with their own families and relationships.

Vi (Azoralla Arroyo Caballero). Photo by Rich Ryan.
*This production is a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere. Mixed Blood is one of four theaters nationwide which are all producing the play. Each theater develops its own production with its own artistic team, so the same script can be interpreted differently by each group. In the case of Mermaid Hour, when artistic director Jack Reuler and director Leah Anderson first read the script, they thought the show could be performed as a musical. Playwright David Valdes Greenwood agreed to try it, and worked with composer Eric Mayson to make the play sing. Of the four productions premiering, this is the only musical version. Eventually, this could be the version of the play that other theaters produce in the future. And it started right here!

Mixed Blood is also hosting a special event on April 28. On Our Own Terms: Voices at the Intersection of Transgender Experience and Mixed Blood Theatre will feature a full day of programming, including a discussion of transgender inclusivity in theater, two short plays, and a performance of Mermaid Hour: Remixed. Follow the link for more information.

Don't forget that cost shouldn't be a barrier to seeing a show at Mixed Blood. Through Radical Hospitality, admission is FREE on a first come/first served basis starting two hours before every show, OR Advanced reservations are available online or by phone for $25 per person. Visit www.mixedblood.com or call 612- 338-6131 for more information.