A relationship goes crashing into the shores of money, love and drugs during a beach vacation in Krista Knight’s often confusing Selkie, named after a mischievous mythical creature in Scottish folklore. A selkie, also known as a water fairy can transform into beautiful woman with the removal of her magical cloak. Knight’s play, though, is set in a warmer climate. It begins with a married couple, Deanna (Toni Ann DeNoble) and Keaton (Federico Rodriguez), making their way to their hotel room in a foreign country. They’re giddy with excitement and ready to tackle this vacation as if they are on spring break, but they’re actually Americans on an extended trip, for reasons never clarified.
Keaton has a drug-dealing plan that he has not shared with Deanna. He sees an opportunity on the vacation to get the offshore selkies to help ship narcotics across the ocean, since the selkies can swim everywhere carrying waterproof packets. They refuse his proposition and mock him. (Asa Wember’s sound design provides numerous selkie voices, though only one selkie appears.)
In retaliation, Keaton snatches the cloak of one of the selkies, named Alondra (Elia Monte-Brown), and holds her for ransom. Once Deanna becomes aware of Keaton’s plans, she is mostly unbothered by the kidnapping of Alondra and complies with his demands.
Though Knight’s title is Selkie, the play is more about Deanna’s realtionship with her dominating husband and the freedom she really wants and seems to find in drugs. However, it’s hard to understand why she is in this marriage or what stake she has in being with Keaton. Rodriguez’s character is also confusing: although Keaton is written as controlling, he mostly comes across as goofy.
This play is a mixture of both comedy and some heavy content, with quiet dark undertones about Deanna and Keaton’s unhealthy relationship. In effect, it is not clear what Knight is trying to say about domestic violence, which seemed a more central element in the story than a need for laughs.
The themes of fear, escape, ambition and the myth of the selkie are only touched on and don’t feel fully explored. The elements are washed over by the convolutions of the plot. In each scene there is a new detail that changes the direction of the story, and although the dynamics of the relationship between the selkie Alondra and the married coupled are the most interesting, the initial story of domestic violence set against the idyllic seashore setting is undercut by a plot full of twists that make the play hard to follow.
Overall, Matt Dickson’s production has a sense of stiffness. The actors looked trapped on opposite sides of the stage in a majority of the scenes. DeNoble, however, successfully conveys the internal conflict of a woman who is driven to have fun but deep down is looking to escape, while Keaton’s anger provided Rodriguez with some of his strongest moments. Together, though, DeNoble and Rodriguez have an awkward chemistry. Brown as the selkie was always in a creature-like mode. The way she looked and spoke to the other characters made her seem like a fish out of water.
The projections, while colorful, don’t mesh comfortably with the story, and it is uncertain how they connect to the play. Reid Thompson’s set design features a sliding curtain showing a seashore; the curtain separates a sandy beach on the apron of the stage from various hotel rooms upstage, but it slides awkwardly for the scene changes. Otherwise, the set works well in the intimate space of the Wild Project, taking the audience to a variety of locations.
Knight has a reputation in her plays for bringing unusual elements together. In Lipstick Lobotomy she imagines her great-aunt Ginny in same sanitarium as JFK’s little sister Rosemary; in Phantom Band a motley high school band is rapt in an exchange student’s mastery of classical music. Knight’s taste for the bizarre, can, when executed well, reveal something deeper about human nature, but this Selkie venture is covered in more water than magic.
Selkie runs through Dec. 22 at the Wild Project (195 E. 3rd Street between Avenues A and B. Performances are at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Tickets are $25 and may be purchased by calling (212) 352-3101 or visiting dutchkillstheater.com.