The title's short for "mermaid," and the show's one of the most innovative of the summer

The title is short for "mermaid," and the play is loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's story "The Little Mermaid." But it's not for kids. Crowded Fire puts on one of the most innovative shows of the summer by playing 'Maid under and around and on top of a tall wooden dock. The rickety structure has four stilts and a roof, like an enormous table; trapdoors let mermaid dancers appear and vanish overhead. The idea is that we -- audience and actors -- are underwater, or at least under the dock, most of the time. Except that the dry-land scenes also have to happen under the dock. This disorientation might work better if Erik Ehn had written a more compelling script, but his sometimes pretentious faux Joycean poetry gives the show a not-quite-this-or-that quality. Dawn Frank's vertical choreography is impressive, and so is the actors' fluid movement up and down through the trapdoors, all in rhythm to David Rhodes' haunting piano. Beth Wilmurt is also fun to watch as the hapless mermaid Amanda, who falls in love with a sailor and goes ashore to pursue him. But the scenes with Robert Martinez as a modern naval officer dealing with his duties in an unnamed war, and Juliet Tanner as a disturbed teenager who cuts her own flesh and wants to become a mermaid (essentially taking Amanda's place in the drink), are, like James Mulligan's fascinating set (sorry, here's a pun), stilted.

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