By Anya Richkind; Directed by Allison Benko
Produced as part of The Corkscrew Theater Festival
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 7.22.18
Paradise Factory, 64 East 4th Street
by Ken Kaissar on 7.17.18
Maggie Thompson, Lindsey Spohler, and Isabella Dawis in The End of Mermaids. Photo by Alex Bailey.
BOTTOM LINE: A new play about the danger to which women subject themselves for the pleasure and entertainment of others.
Welcome to Mermaid Land, an entertainment venue where viewers are invited to gaze at women as they impersonate mermaids. Though no woman has ever drowned, the mermaids perform at the peril of being devoured by a silent alligator (Patrick Reilly). So why do these women assume such risk for the pleasure of their audience? Their cause is beauty. They believe that people deserve to have something beautiful to behold. Does this strike you as a topical allegory? Me too.
The End of Mermaids revolves around Marie (Isabella Dawis), a newly minted mermaid who has come to train and fulfill her lifelong dream. She is accepted into the mermaid program by Lola (Elizabeth Evans), a director who seems intense for no other reason than to give the audience a giggle and the play a hint of friction. Marie is mentored by veteran mermaids Bee and Vana (Maggie Thompson and Lindsey Spohler, respectively). Under the direction of Allison Benko, the four women, along with Reilly—notably the only male actor—as the voiceless alligator, make up a charming cast with which to spend 90 minutes.
An-Lin Dauber’s set design—two layers of bead curtains that function both as walls and water—is pleasing to the eye, but I imagine costume designer Lillian Prentice got to have the most fun designing Technicolor bras and fins. The most entertaining sequence is when the mermaids model Valentine’s and Memorial Day-themed bras, though playwright Anya Richkind might have gotten more mileage out of Easter and Halloween.
Richkind’s script is snappy and filled with hilarious, snide sarcasm toward the novice mermaid. And Elizabeth Evans is funny as the leader who clearly cares more for illusion than she does for the well-being of her employees. Then again, the play offers no explanation for why these women behave as they do. Perhaps the style is meant to be somewhat absurdist. But whereas some of the best absurdist work has a element of subtlety and nuance, The End of Mermaids is a bit obvious.
I couldn’t shake the sense of The End of Mermaids as an allegory for women who put themselves in harm's way for male pleasure, although I’m not convinced playwright Anya Richkind set out to write something quite so on the nose. She states in the program “I was really obsessed with this place and places like it,” which seems like a plausible impetus. But why did she stop just shy of exploring why this mermaid job is so compelling to these women? What personal struggles do they face that might drive them to this line of work? Who are they outside of the context of Mermaid Land? These details might have drawn the audience in more, demanded empathy for the characters, and provided more substance. As it is, the play feels like an exercise in futile, voluntarily risk-taking.
(The End of Mermaids plays at Paradise Factory, 64 East 4th Street, through July 22, 2018. The running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. Performances are 7/18 at 7; 7/20 at 8; 7/21 at 8; and 7/22 at 4:30. Tickets are $24 and are available at corkscrewfestival.org or by calling 347-954-9125.)
The End of Mermaids is by Anya Richkind. Directed by Allison Benko. Choreography by Sarah Crane. Set Design by An-Lin Dauber. Costume Design by Lillian Prentice. Lighting Design by Cha See. Sound Design by Grace Oberhofer. Props Design by Cinthia Chen. Stage Manager is Margaret Gleberman.
The cast is Isabella Dawis, Elizabeth Evans, Patrick Reilly, Lindsey Spohler, and Maggie Thompson.