Song From the Sea
Reviewed by Patti Hadad, Fri., Sept. 30, 2005
Song From the Sea
Dougherty Arts Center Theatre, through Oct. 9
This year marks the 15th season for Second Youth Family Theatre. All of the original company members, such as recently departed Artistic Director Rick Smith, are gone, leaving behind a company that's testing some new waters in theatre for young people. One example of this is Mike Kenny's Song From the Sea, whose premiere the company is giving on American soil. Kenny's 60-plus works are well-known in England and usually vie with long-established fables and fairy tales for production in children's theatre there.
His enjoyable script holds to the ideals of most typical American plays that instill hope with a smirk-and-nod moral. Kids can spot a disguised morality tale a mile away, but the enchantment in Kenny's tale eases the "pain" of being taught a lesson while reinforcing our belief in childhood as a time of innocence, unperturbed by adult reality.
In the midst of a noisy grownup world, an adorable blond boy named Josh hears a faint "yet beautiful" song (according to the narrator and grandmother, played wisely by Laurie Coker) that no one else seems to hear. Every night, the bedroom window flies up, the flat, featureless props wash away and disappear, and the boy falls into a deep-sea slumber. While flooding has been on everyone's mind of late, on stage these flooding dreams are the most pacifying parts of the production, with the water represented by sinuous silk in various shades of navy and teal and the sounds of rushing ocean waves soothing our ears.
Awake again, Josh goes to tell his family what he has heard. But his mother (Andrea Alvarez) loudly and monotonously vacuums in her business attire, his pigtailed too-cool-for-school older sister (Harmony Zambrano) dances to a boombox while doing homework, and his grandmother watches her game shows. As the boy hero, young Ian Christopher Blake frustratingly pulls on their skirts to get their attention, but only the grandmother listens. Together, the two of them trek through the city, left to the audience's imagination, and meet the beach.
Despite the fact that we never hear "the song," Director Sarah Rinner unfolds the tale like waves through scenes and energetic choreography. Josh swims, his arms flapping clumsily through the air, not really believing he is in water. It takes a few scenes for the audience to realize he is swimming with dolphins. In dreams, these charming and intelligent cetaceans can be signs of a child's mental development, and that's certainly true of Josh here. The dolphins (Leslie Finley and Mary Katherine Vigness), festooned with pastel ribbons, fly through the air in affectionate rhythms, nearly flawless to a child's eye.
Rinner avoids overdoing the nautical themes that might have left the audience green about the gills. She maintains a balance of reality and magic that washes calmly over the audience, trusting in her youngest viewers to imagine the city, the water, and the dolphins. Rinner believes that the play is about "trusting in that which you can't see with your eyes but know in your body."
Josh says, "I didn't want to come back. I wanted to stay with the dolphin forever. The dolphin told me a story and
made me come back." In telling his story, Second Youth transforms the Dougherty Arts Center into an oasis from the lingering summer heat, where tranquil waters offer an existence that is simple and free, full of children's laughter and splashing.