For a play to work, it is typically essential for it to know what it wants to be. Whether it’s a comedy, tragedy, drama, performance piece, or a mixture of the lot, it’s tough for a production to affect an audience if the director and cast do not have a clear sense of identity. Proximity Theatre Company’s Mermaid’s Tale, which just finished a one-weekend run at the New Vic, is a play that sadly seemed to be having an identity crisis and ended up stuck somewhere in between a movement-based drama and a screwball comedy. Mixing these two genres would not be impossible, but the production made no visible effort to do so, and instead the audience was left with a completely disjointed and confusing performance.
The biggest problem of Mermaid’s Tale was the plot, though calling this random collection of scenes a plot seems almost insulting to the art of storytelling. The script openly borrowed heavily from The Little Mermaid, which is not a problem, except it did nothing new or imaginative with the story that everyone already knows. There was also a subplot about the filming of an intentionally cheesy science-fictional B movie called The Evil Ocean, but the purpose of this seemed to be mainly to fill up time. The rapid change from wacky comedy to melodramatic dance numbers felt entirely misguided, and even bringing the two plots together did nothing to help them feel less disconnected. Overall, the story was an absolute mess that lacked most of the essential ingredients to make a story compelling, or even cohesive.
It was hard to really judge the acting in the show, as the entire cast seemed to suffer due to a lack of any real direction or motivation. In fact, it was only during the Evil Ocean scenes that any of the actors seemed to show actual signs of acting or performing. Apparently choreographing completely random and out-of-place dance numbers to Britney Spears’s “Toxic” and Ylvis’s “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)” was more important than developing basic character motivation. There were occasional moments of humor, but those moments were spaced out in between long stretches of muddled, poorly paced scenes that rarely accomplished anything.
The entire production of Mermaid’s Tale felt unfocused; with each new scene, the production seemed to have some additional idea about what it wanted to do or where it wanted to go, resulting in a classic case of a script that bit off more than its company could chew. Mermaid’s Tale could have been an interesting blend of seemingly unrelated ideas and styles, but a failure to create a clear vision left this production feeling like little more than a bizarre disappointment.