By Holli Harms
Mermaids are fascinating creatures of mythology who have, throughout the centuries, continued to be part of cultural folklore. We know they’re not real and yet we love to hear about possible encounters and sightings. They have never gone out of style.
Writer H.G. Wells wrote the novel The Sea Lady in 1901. In 1935 American author Neith Boyce adapted the novel into a stage play. It was to have hit Broadway in 1935. But before the play could make its debut on The Great White Way all rights to the play were pulled by Wells’ agents and it retreated to the closet of obscurity. It was never able to see the illumination of stage lighting until now.
Alex Roe and Metropolitan Playhouse have finally staged the play some 87 years after the first attempt, and I am glad they have.
A mermaid is washed up on the English shore and rescued by members of the Bunting household. They, the Buntings, headed by the bumbling and wayward banker patriarch Randolph Bunting (Joseph J. Menino) and an overly zealous matriarch, Amanda Bunting (fabulously played by Laura Pruden) are told by the mermaid (Elizabeth Ahrens), who they have given the English name Doris Waters, they must help her find her soul. She explains to the Buntings that mermaids have no soul but if they live with humans they can learn and understand life better and thus gain their eternal souls. The Buntings, being excellent Christians from their point of view, take it to heart and make Doris their main focus in life. But Doris is really there to meet with the rising young politician Harry Chatteris (Dexter McKinney II). While swimming in the Hawaiian waters The Sea Lady viewed Harry on the beach and was immediately smitten. She had to have him. Harry is engaged to a member of the Bunting household, the very correct goal-focused, no time for fun, Adeline Glendower (Ursula Anderman). Amanda Bunting has her cousin, the democratic wordsmith Horace Melville (Joe Candelora), act as the family’s mouthpiece for Doris and Harry and for Amanda and Adeline. When Harry runs off to a seaside vacation spot following Doris, Melville is the one sent to talk Harry into returning back to Adeline. When Lady Poynting-Mallow (the hilarious Kim Yancy-Moore), Harry’s Aunt, arrives to suggest Harry might be better off with the mermaid it is Melville who is there to listen and guide her to reason.
What transpires over the course of the play are Wells’ thoughts on life hilariously cleverly argued. Arguments on how life should be lived as a proper individual, following the rules that mankind has created; being on time, being polite, not making waves, and being, most importantly, successful in life, both in creating pleasant domesticity and gaining monetarily thus building outstanding equity. All this helps the individual build respect from their community and consequentially themselves. These are the important things in life. Doris, our Sea Lady, disagrees. What she offers up is another choice where time has no meaning, where success is not measured by wealth, by following the rules of society; good job, good home, good children. Success in the world of the mermaid is how you witness the beauty of the world. We who live on dry land are too busy trying to make a life rather than taking the time to witness the life around us. But is Doris offering heaven on earth or something else?
The arguments regarding a politician’s main focus are on display here and throughout history, and it’s not how they can help their constituents, but how to get elected and reelected. The arguments regarding how you must live your life following the herd are timeless talks on what it means to be alive, to live a life.
The performances are solid with two standing out as scene stealers; Pruden and Yancey-Moore. They command the stage with the bravado of vaudeville pros and knee-slapping hilarity.
Boyce’s The Sea Lady was never allowed to have its proper opening and I kept wondering as I watched and listened to this magical hilarious tale of life’s trappings what would have come of it had it been able to make its debut in 1935. Would The Sea Lady have become part of the American theatrical canon? Because the questions it poses for life are questions we ask ourselves every decade, every century. What was missed because this play was kept in a closet? Would composers eventually have made it into operas? Musicals? Community theater’s adding it to their repertoire?
Alex Roe’s staging uses the small space and large cast at the Metropolitan Playhouse with creativity and care. I must send a shout-out to costume designer Anthony Paul-Cavaretta. The costumes were simply spot on and so much fun. We women used to wear pantyhose to the beaches to swim in!! Pantyhose and large bathing frocks!! The mermaid, with simply her tail and long hair and nothing else, is just right. Even in the pleasure of swimming we were restricted to what is proper and what is not as if the fish would be offended by a woman’s legs or even worse excited.
The Sea Lady playing at the Metropolitan Playhouse runs through October 30th.
Obie Award winner Metropolitan Playhouse returns with the world premiere of Neith Boyce’s THE SEA LADY, in limited run from October 6 – 30, 2022, in person at the Playhouse: 220 E 4th Street. Alex Roe directs.
The Sea Lady by Neith Boyce, based on H.G. Wells The Sea Lady, directed and designed by ALEX ROE, now playing at the Metropolitan Playhouse.
With ELISABETH AHRENS as The Sea Lady, DEXTER McKINNEY as Harry Chatteris, JOE CANDELORA as Horace Melville, and LAURA PRUDEN as Mrs. Bunting. URSULA ANDERMAN as Adeline Glendower , ALEX BRIGHTWELL as Fred Bunting, FLORENCE ANNE MARCISAK as Parker, JOE MENINO as Randolph Bunting, ERIN LEIGH SCHMOYER as Mabel Glendower and KIM YANCEY-MOORE as Lady Poynting-Mallow.
Creative Team: Costume design by ANTHONY PAUL-CAVARETTA, lighting design by HEATHER M. CROCKER, and sound design by MICHAEL HARDART. The Production Stage Manager is MARY CAITLYN DEFFELY and dialect coach is BARBRA WENGERD. Scenic Art by MEDUSA STUDIO.
$30 general admission, $25 seniors, $20 students, and $10 children 18 and under.
TICKETS HERE , or call 212 995 8410
October 6 – 30, 2022
Thursday – Saturday evenings at 7:00 pm; Sunday afternoons at 3:00pm
COVID-19 PROTOCOLS: to lower the risk of the spread of COVID-19. All staff and audience will be required to wear masks inside the building.