Review: Ballad of the Pale Fisherman

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Source: transatlanticloveaffair.org

I must admit that this is the first production by Transatlantic Love Affair that I’ve seen. And wow, have I been missing out. A retelling of the story of selkies in folktales, this performance focuses on a small fishing town where fisherman have been known to catch seals which transform into beautiful women. One such fisherman (Diogo Lopes) catches a selkie (Emily King) and loses her seal skin, preventing her from returning to the sea. Homesick, the fisherman takes her in and she tries to adapt to a life on land. Through a wonderful ensemble of Heather Bunch, Alex Hathaway, Adelin Phelps, Allison Witham, and Derek Lee Miller as the Narrator, a beautiful story unfolds that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking.

One of the most marvelous things about this production is how the storytelling is conveyed. There are no props, no outside sound effects. All music and sound is produced by the actors, either through Miller’s performance on the accordion (and using the instrument to make airy sounds of ocean waves, which I found really stunning) or through vocalizations and effects made by the actor’s. This piece also focuses largely on movement, using different postures and body language to convey different characters in the ensemble as well as King’s switch from Anna (the Selkie) as human and Anna in her seal-form. Choreography is used to mimic the movements of the sea, the ebbing of the tide, seals basking on the beach, and everyday life in the small village. This allows most of the story to take place in the imagination of the audience and left me feeling as if I had actually seen the sea rising and falling, experienced the transition of a selkie moving between human and seal forms, and knew exactly what this little fishing village looked like. And all this through the movement and emotions conveyed by the actors. Along with lighting design by Mike Wangen that highlights the mood of the sea versus the village and the selkie’s internal struggle and consuming by Anna Reichert that allows for easy movement and subtly emphasizes the ensemble’s characters, this piece is utterly breathtaking. So much of this piece works because of timing – having lighting shifts line up perfectly with sounds made by actors or their movements, keeping the choreography consistent and making it feel believable. The ensemble does this marvelously and I left the theater thinking I could actually smell a hit of salt and seaweed in the air.

I’m a fan of anything that includes a retelling of mythology or folktale with folk music and beautiful storytelling, so I absolutely adore this show. I’m utterly blown away by this performance and can’t wait to see another Transatlantic Love Affair production soon.

Ballad of the Pale Fisherman is conceived and directed by Isabel Nelson and playing now through June 17th at the Southern Theater. Show and ticket information can be found on Transatlantic Love Affair’s website or on the Southern’s website.

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