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Fringe 2010: "Ballad of the Pale Fisherman"—5 stars
Mixed Marriages Never Work
Ballad Of The Pale Fisherman - Mixed Blood Theater
"Lyrical" was the word Mom used to describe Ballad Of The Pale Fisherman and I have to agree. Lyrical is a good place to start. This show landed in my Top 10 largely on the strength of their Fringe-For-All preview. From that, I was able to divine that it was exactly the kind of theatrical storytelling I enjoy. Very Fringy, the only set pieces being a chair and an accordion down in the corner of the stage. Everything was created by the cast, the movement of their bodies and the direction of their gaze. And what movements, and what gazes, they were.
"Go to sleep, my child, my own
Land nor sea will call you home
My heart, my own..."
Ballad Of The Pale Fisherman is a story of longing. And love, and loss. It's pretty much gorgeous from start to finish. Director Isabel K. Nelson has gathered quite the ensemble (Willie Gambucci, Diogo Lopes, Derek Lee Miller, Adelin Phelps, Anna Reichert, Natalie Remus, and Allison Witham) and set them loose on the story of a selkie, a seal (Reichert) pulled from the sea, trapped in the body of a woman. The selkie tries to make a life on land, married to the good fisherman (Lopes) who caught her in his nets, and fell in love. They have a child together. But when the fisherman discovers the lost seal skin which could allow his wife to return to the sea, and the seal community she left behind, everyone has some decisions to make.
"She's a seal! It's never gonna work! You belong in the sea!"
The cast does some simple but nonetheless amazing vocal and physical work. They embody the elements of nature, a world of both land and sea. They create the town, both physically, and in the sense of the community and cast of characters that surrounds this unusual family. They transform into seals (also known as pale fishermen) and fish. They personify prejudice and forgiveness, fear and acceptance. Much of the humor comes from the three old ladies who mend the fishermen's nets (Phelps, Remus and Witham), a slow-moving, hunchbacked, occasionally forgetful Greek chorus that you can't help loving. They're delightful creations.
"On land, she was drowning."
Miller acts as narrator (and in those final moments is the best kind of narrator, revealing, almost accidentally, his connection to the story he tells). Miller also provides not just musical accompaniment but sound effects on his accordion. It took me a shamefully long time to realize the wind wasn't a recorded sound cue, but Miller working the bellows of the musical instrument in his lap. The wind, and the undulations of the tide evident in everyone's movements, is a hypnotic constant at the back of this tale.
"Something broke that day the seals died..."
Ballad Of The Pale Fisherman is a story full of enough romance to make anyone swoon. I am, I will admit, particularly susceptible to its charms, but the audience around me, including my mother, seemed transported as well. It's funny and sweet and sad and just really, really lovely. It's not the flashy kind of work that draws a lot of attention to itself, but it's the kind of solid, well-crafted work that makes for the most satisfying of audience experiences. Give me substance over flash any day, if it's substance like this.
5 stars, Very Highly Recommended
NEXT PERFORMANCE - Sunday 8/8 at 5:30pm
(Then Wednesday 8/11 at 10pm, Friday 8/13 at 7pm, and Sunday 8/15 at 7pm)
Fringe show #10 - Saturday, 8/7 2:30pm
1501 S. 4th St.
Minneapolis, MN 55454