Film noir meets sea and sand in this The Only Animal, site-specific play on the beach at Spanish Banks. Theres no film and only a sort-of crimehallmarks of the genrebut the plot, a triangle involving a femme fatale and underscored by a romantic soundscape, is decidedly noir-ish.
Using the sandy foreshore to advantage, writer and co-director Eric Rhys Miller fashions Sylvie, a would-be marriage wrecker, as a selkie (a mythological seal who sheds its skin to become human). Sylvie (Tanya Marquardt) comes out of the sea to tempt writer James (Billy Marchenski) away from his marine biologist wife Helen (Ashley Bodiguel).
The audience meets James and Helen after James has suffered a head injury. Left with amnesia, hes eager to remember the past; Helen, however, wants only to move on. But recall slowly returns to James and in flashbacks we learn about the couples involvement with Sylvie and his mysterious accident.
Take a blanket and maybe a chair (a few are provided) to this show. Curtainand what a silly notion that is when it comes to such site-specific workis 7 p.m. and it runs until 8 p.m., just about the time the sun sets these August evenings. Sea of Sand is free (although donations are welcome) and the scenery is priceless.
Miller and co-director/dramaturg Heidi Taylor incorporate some innovative techniques in the telling of this tale. In a space as wide open as Spanish Banks and with actors including Matt Palmer (narrator and possibly James alter ego) moving up and down the beach and in and out of the water, it would be impossible to hear the dialogue. The problem is solved with an amplified soundtrack running simultaneously with the action. Taped sounds of surf enhance the sound of real waves breaking on the shore. And apparently solar and pedal power augmented the power supply.
Site-specific work is not as easy as it looks. Theatre companies dont just turn a bunch of actors loose in an interesting location and tell them to do something. As Miller candidly writes in his notes, We needed a strong narrative to focus the attention of a large audience. Sea of Sand has a compelling storyline.
But a real risk of producing theatre outside the theatre is that sometimes the environment creates effects not easy to predict. Opening night was not a bad night; it had been warm in the afternoon but clouds had moved in. Watching the actors walking in, diving into or swimming in that cold water, sometimes fully clothed, sometimes in bathing suits or wetsuits, kept me thinking pneumonia. In spite of my polar fleece, Im sure I was shivering in sympathyalthough the actors (young and keen) were possibly unaware of the cold. My consciousness, however, of cold and wet was hard to get past.
Im crossing my fingers for warm, sunny days so at least the sandwhere much of the action takes placeholds some warmth into the early evening. Dont take the kids; according to the press release, its not for those under 12 because of adult themes. A couple of stick-chasing dogs at the adjoining dog beach got into the action, however, when Marchenski and Bodiguel ran down that way. Its all part of the fun and serendipity thats on offer at Sea of Sand.
Sea of Sand is at Spanish Banks West Extension Tuesday to Sunday until Aug. 28. Go to theonlyanimal.com