Polybe + Seats’ latest installation, A Thousand Thousand Slimy Things: An Aquatic Spectacular of Conservation and Change, is an ambitious attempt to investigate our relationship to the sea. It is a theatrical convergence of our romanticism of the ocean and our actual daily destruction of it as land loving consumers. Under the direction of Jessica Brater, the ensemble (Carmel Amit, Jenni Lerche, Elaine O’Brien, Sarah Sakaan, Eugene Michael Santiago, Hilary Thomas and Ari Vigoda) admirably offers an evening of theater that reminds us that ultimately we are all sailing into uncharted waters. The performance is inspired by the real life mermaids of Weeki Wachee, Florida. Since 1947, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park has been the home and performance venue for the Weeki Wachee mermaids. In 2003, lead by Weeki Wachee’s mayor and former mermaid Robyn Anderson, the mermaids lead a campaign to save the park from closure. Upon arriving at the Waterfront Museum in Red Hook, one is greeted by the protesting mermaids, played by Carmel Amit, Jenni Lerche, and Hillary Thomas.
The ensemble efficiently and effectively navigates through the space and through the multitude of characters that the members take on. As a unit, the actors function as a school of scientists. Dressed in white lab coats, they flitter, measure, and investigate. But to what end? Science can tell us what is happening but certainly cannot undo the damage. Ari Vigoda is completely captivating as John, an explorer who is set adrift on his best friend Jake Jr., a melting iceberg. Unlike the school of scientists who take a mechanical and distanced approach to their work, John serves as the emotional center.
A Thousand Thousand Slimy Things has all of the right conceptual and artistic elements.The performance takes place at the Waterfront Museum and Showboat Barge in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Spending an evening on the water, seated on a 96 year old barge, one can feel the motion of the water beneath one’s seat. Natalie Robin’s lighting design compliments the space, drawing attention to the interior when necessary and at other moments beautifully taking us underwater. Set designer Eli Kaplan-Wildman and costume designer Bevan Dunbar use only reclaimed objects for the design. As the performance progresses the stage becomes overrun with the dross of our daily life: water bottle, rubber bands and plastic bags. The visual mess juxtaposed with a lyrical script suggest the abyss that has been created between our idealized relationship to the sea and our actual indifference. The text for the piece included excepts from Moby Dick, Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us, The Little Mermaid, Ibsen’s Lady From the Sea, as well as transcripts of interviews of the Weeki Wachee mermaids.
In spite of the precision and cohesion of the ensemble, what is lost is the overall journey of the evening. A Thousand Thousand Slimy Things is a collection of moments, not a unified event. Artfully told and visually compelling, ultimately the play skims the surface but does not quite get to what lies beneath.