Writer: Krista Knight
Director: Matt Dickson
Reviewer: Carrie Lee O’Dell
The legend of selkies, shapeshifters who can take the form of a human or a seal, appears in mythology from Scotland, Ireland, and Scandinavia. The stories often center on a female selkie and a man who steals and hides her sealskin, trapping her in human form and keeping her under his control. She usually marries him and bears his children, but never stops longing for the sea. Dutch Kills Theater’s latest offering, playwright Krista Knight’s new play, Selkie, offers a contemporary take on the legend, examining the myth through the lens of domestic abuse and addiction. Selkie is directed by Matt Dickson and running at The Wild Project.
When the play opens, we meet Deanna (Toni Ann DeNoble) and Keaton (Federico Rodriguez), a young American couple who have just moved to a beach town in an unnamed island nation. It’s the off-season and they are trying to get their footing in their new surroundings, living out of suitcases in a generic hotel. While they seem happy and head-over-heels in love, there’s something dark that lurks under the surface of their relationship. As we learn more about their past, their marriage, and Keaton’s business plans, it becomes clear that this relationship is not a healthy one. The island is also home to a colony of seals. When Keaton goes to their cove, he learns that they are selkies (voiced by Christine Renee Miller, Anya Kopischke, Lori Elizabeth Parquet, and Alley Scott). The seal women taunt him, but one, Alondra (Elia Monte-Brown), gets too close and he captures her. He takes her back to the hotel room, where Deanna must decide where her loyalties lie.
Selkie is a smart and darkly funny play. From the beginning, we sense that there’s something bubbling under the surface of Keaton and Deanna’s sappy-sweet dialogue; he always insists on control, even when he does so playfully. Dickson’s direction complements Knight’s excellent writing; scenes in which we hear dialogue in the darkness allow us to imagine what happens in Keaton and Deanna’s hotel room when the lights go out. The addition of Alondra to the action creates a pressure cooker situation emphasized by tight living quarters. Acting is solid throughout—Federico Rodriguez’s wide-eyed, floppy-haired youth makes the reveal of Keaton’s aggression all the more shocking, while Toni Ann DeNoble allows Deanna to be a naïve party girl without being vapid. Elia Monte-Brown’s Alondra seems, at times, otherworldly, especially when she’s first trapped on land; her eyes convey the desperation of a hostage. The voices of her selkie cousins are a delightful addition to the play. Set designer Reid Thompson and projection designer Yana Birykova do fine work establishing the spaces of the hotel, town, and beach, especially given the small and very boxy proscenium stage at The Wild Project. The only weak spot in the evening is Dispatch Combat Collective’s fight choreography toward the end of the play—it wasn’t bad, but felt a bit underwhelming for a high stakes moment in the play.
Overall, Selkie is a work that manages to be both funny and thought-provoking. It comments on domestic abuse, exploitation, and dumb Americans who muck around with the both the ecosystem and the local economy in foreign beach towns. Krista Knight’s dialogue and plotting are smart and finely tuned. If you’re lucky, you might see the show on a night when she’s in attendance in a seal costume, encouraging lobby selfies with beach balls. Either way, Selkie should not be missed.
Runs until 22 December 2018 | Image: James Cuccio