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vancouverplays review


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Sea of Sand

by Eric Rhys Miller
The Only Animal
Spanish Banks Beach
Aug. 13-28
By donation

The Only Animal theatre company has this thing about water. In the vanguard of the work that has made Vancouver a leader in the creation of site-specific performance—plays that utilize environments outside the walls of a theatre for their setting and staging—the company produced one of its plays, The One That Got Away, in a swimming pool and a second, Other Freds, in False Creek. During the Winter Olympics they performed NiX in the ice and snow of Whistler.

Sea of Sand is another imaginative, evocative immersion in The Only Animal’s sea of stories. Playwright Eric Rhys Miller, co-directing with Heidi Taylor, sets this tale at the far western end of Spanish Banks, on the beach and in English Bay. You sit on a chair or a blanket in the sand at sunset with freighters in the foreground and the mountains as backdrop. Real gulls squawk and nearby dogs bark, blending with Joel DeStefano’s recorded soundscape as a mysterious love triangle of reconstructed memory emerges like a dream from the sea.

James, a writer, has fallen along the beach, hit his head on rocks, and is suffering from amnesia. His wife Helen (Ashley Bodiguel), a marine biologist, struggles to help him remember. But as James begins piecing together his past in flashbacks, he realizes Helen has been keeping something from him: the memory of a strange young woman, Sylvie (Tanya Marquardt), whom James and Helen saved from drowning the previous summer. Sylvie claims to be a selkie, a mythological creature that transforms from seal to human. She enters both their lives in profound and disturbing ways, and proves the key to the mystery of James’ accident.

James is a film noir fan, and the play employs the voice-over technique of that genre to deepen the mysterious mood. At the same time as Billy Marchenski plays James in the scenes with the women, Matt Palmer plays him as noir-ish narrator. The dialogue, all pre-recorded, is broadcast from speakers while the actors, karaoke-like, sometimes mouth the words and sometimes don’t even bother. In one scene James and Helen are so far down the beach we can barely see them, yet we hear their entire conversation. The effect is unsettling.

Unlike a lot of site-specific work where the setting is the only star and the script a minor player, Sea of Sand benefits from a smart, complex and often funny script along with strong acting, excellent swimming—much of the action takes place in the water—and a magnificent setting that reminds us why we live here.

Jerry Wasserman