This play ran in Annex Theatre from August 9 to 26, and was produced by a tiny theatre company I had never heard of called Pony World (check out their website: http://ponyworld.org/index.html). I’m a member of a Facebook group called Seattle Comp Tickets, which was giving away a pair of comps to this show. I didn’t get the comps, but I was told that the tickets were only $10 online, so I bought a pair, found a date, and went.
One must understand, going into “small theatre” in this town is a very different experience than one might expect. Often these companies have little or no budget with which to produce their works, which can lead to a set, costumes, acting, etc that seem amateur to a theatre-goer used to lavish Broadway-style productions.
To be sure, not all the characters were spectacular, but most were acted with a genuine deep feeling on the part of the actors that is hard to deny — and, I might add, rarely seen in larger productions, where acting is really second fiddle to stage and lighting and sound and costumes. The set was inexpensive — mostly crates probably borrowed from some fishing wharf near the Market — but creatively used in set changes. The costumes were as simple as possible while still fitting the play, but they did suit the play so I simply cannot fault them for that.
What I will fault the production for were a couple of moments in the writing itself — the faux science shows, where lightbox puppets illustrated marine life moving through various daily activities, which flowed into the dreamworld of the play — and the two Star Coffee agents — a commentary on Starbucks’, and many other large corporations’, clinging to their precious branding and image.
The nature shorts didn’t seem to flow from anything in particular in the play, but were a clever reference to the fact that the play is about a fisherman, his widow and his daughter, and is set in Seattle with a heavy emphasis on the fishing trade in the area. They were amusing and kept the play light, but because they seemed to be random interludes rather than Emerald’s imaginings, they had no specific place.
The agents were supposed to create some kind of dramatic tension, chasing Emerald, her female captain friend, and her love interest for stealing a scone and a Star Coffee apron from their former place of employ. The two agents ultimately fall in love at the end of the show, which is also an amusing, but inconsequential, note to wrap up all the loose ends of the show. As villains, they completely fail, and the only real dramatic tension in the show is Emerald’s journey to the Island of Dead Fisherman to see the ghost of her father. A snippet of dialogue mentioning the shame of stealing a Star Coffee apron would add the same amount of amusement as the agents.
Another aspect of the play I found onerous — and one I find onerous in most plays, so please do not think it is a criticism against the full production — was the emphasis on romantic love. There are so many kinds of love in the world — lust, platonic love, fraternal love, parental love. The play touches on all of these, but ultimately lands on romantic love as the only kind that will truly save us all. Emerald’s friendship with the female ship captain is unsatisfactorily summed up as Emerald runs off with her new beau, and former boss at Star Coffee. Emerald’s mother descends into the sea to be with the ghost of her late husband, who manages to remember his wife, but not his daughter (hardly any satisfaction there, after Emerald spends 2/3 of the play thinking about him and searching for him). Even the two Star Coffee agents and nature show announcers, mentioned earlier, happen to fall for each other (and, I might add, also happen to fall into heterosexual pairings).
On that front, there was nothing new or interesting to the underlying plot or the way it was wrapped up. The show itself, however, was one of the best I’ve seen this year. I know mentioning all of the bad aspects of it first make it seem less than desirable, but it truly was a work of art.
Puppets were employed to great effect for dream sequences (lightbox puppets) and underwater scenes (stick marionettes); occasionally the cast broke out into song, live on stage, and the music was beautifully written; live music interludes haunted set changes, which became plot montages rather than tedious moments leaving the audience hanging between scenes; and the overall tone, helped along by the dialogue, genuine actors, haunting music, and spare stage was bittersweet, fantastical, beautiful, and sad yet passionate.
What I think I like most about this play — aside from the fact that it is brand new, and written and produced locally — was that it represents a return of dreamlike plays and fantasy to the stage. It seems like this movement has been happening all over the US for awhile now, and I think it is a great use for the stage, rather than the cinema. Our theatre has suffered for far too long from moral preaching from all corners, from the influence of the Theatre of Cruelty and Samuel Beckett and the 1970’s harsh politics. We’ve lost our ability to just tell a human story, even if it means delving into the realm of the unreal, and replaced it with a choice between a shallow musical or a screaming tirade against our political leaders. Given that choice, who wouldn’t go to the movies instead?
So I would like to thank “Emerald and the Love Song of the Dead Fisherman” for being a brave, beautiful production from a new small theatre, for reminding me the power of theatrical productions despite budget, and for relieving my mind for two hours. Keep an eye on Pony World, for they will surely surprise us again. http://ponyworld.org/