things about stuff
by Julio Martinez
There is certainly no confusing Dalene Young's adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" with Walt Disney's animated film. Young's saga of the fall from grace of an idealistic young minister is much closer to the underlying philosophy of Andersen's morality tale; it is also disjointed and unrelentingly grim. Aside from the exotically beautiful pre-recorded musical interludes and songs of composer Stephen Cohn and a competent cast, director Royston Thomas offers no respite from the aura of doom and gloom.
There is certainly no confusing Dalene Young’s adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” with Walt Disney’s animated film. Young’s saga of the fall from grace of an idealistic young minister is much closer to the underlying philosophy of Andersen’s morality tale; it is also disjointed and unrelentingly grim. Aside from the exotically beautiful pre-recorded musical interludes and songs of composer Stephen Cohn and a competent cast, director Royston Thomas offers no respite from the aura of doom and gloom.
Updated to the present age, Young’s tale follows the dubious career of minister Kristen (Tom Blanton) from his early days as a zealous leader of a small flock to his rise and fall as an evangelical star.
In his early efforts to create a miracle, he almost drowns in the ocean. He is rescued by the mermaid Ula (Arizona Brooks), who spends most of her time in an aquarium, hidden from view in the back room of a bar owned by her human mother, Honora (Martha Demson). Kristen and Ula declare their love and she makes the painful transformation into a human, much to the dismay of her mother and the outrage of her father, the sea god Neptune (Steve Rosenbaum). Kristen, on the other hand, has a bride with two increasingly burdensome qualities: she can never tell a lie and is constantly walking on blood-spattered feet (her former fins).
The rest of the plot has so many repetitions and convolutions that it takes much too long getting to its destination. And despite the considerable musical contribution of Cohn, the score suffers because much of the vocalizing has been pre-recorded, which serves to distance it from the onstage performances.
What does work in this production are the generally excellent performances. Blanton is a laser beam of intensity as Kristen, and Brooks evokes all the wonder and awe of an innocent creature facing the real world for the first time.
In supporting roles, Sherri Stone Butler is deliciously evil as Kristen’s former fiancee, Melanie, and Steven Rosenbaum makes a gleeful, lascivious Neptune. Also adding solid support are Martha Demson as the love-starved Honora and Louis Balestra as the ethereal poet Willard.
The production also features excellent design concepts by Butler and Rich Comito, Lackemacher (lighting), and Elizabeth Muxi and Marcia De Costa (costumes).
The Sea Jewel
(Open Fist Theatre, Hollywood; 99 seats; $ 15 top)
For those whose only exposure to Hans Christian Andersen 's "The Little Mermaid" is through the Disney film, Dalene Young's adaptation "The Sea Jewel" at the Open Fist Theatre will be a revelation. Young has captured the grimness and unrequited longing of Andersen's original while effectively updating the work to a more contemporary, Americanized setting.
Ula (Arizona Brooks), the daughter of Neptune (Steve Rosenbaum) and a human female (Martha Demson), magically revives evangelical minister Kristen (Tom Blanton), who has thrown himself off a cliff in the hope that should he survive he will be heralded as a miracle-maker. Ula and Kristen fall in love. After Kristen jilts his worldly fiancée (Sherri Stone Butler), the enchanted pair marry, but disenchantment and tragedy are in store for these starfish - crossed lovers.
Young's thematically rich play, which mingles myth with a healthy dollop of feminist rage, should be a treat for those who like dark and uncensored fairy tales.
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