Stage Notes: A Thousand Thousand Slimy Things: An Aquatic Spectacular of Conservation and Change

Tom Murrin
Producer Polybe + Seats brings us a timely, site-specific piece at the Showboat Barge in Red Hook, which opened the day after Earth Day.  Set in the Weeki Wachee Springs Park in Florida, a famous U.S. roadside attraction where swimmers perform as mermaids, the almost-mythical plot extends out into the sea, involving those who want to protect the waters of the world, amidst a current of plastic trash.  The play was conceived and directed by Jessica Brater, written by Katya Schapiro, and features a cast of seven playing multiple roles. I spoke with Brater.
Hi Jessica.  How did this show come about?
We were inspired by the Weeki Wachee Mermaid Park and their Save Our Tails campaign. Former owners had neglected the park's management, and the nine residents of the town, led by their mayor, Robyn Anderson, successfully sued to take over control.  I had also read about the changing ocean environment, and started to see this as a parallel conservation story.
How did that fit in?
There is a place in the ocean, called The North Central Pacific Gyre.  It's sometimes referred to as the "Garbage Patch." It's roughly twice the size of Texas, and it's full of plastic trash.
That's terrible.
Yes, it's terrible.  Because any trash that's not properly land-filled ends up in the ocean.  So we combined these two stories, and we're telling it through the eyes of the Weeki Wachee residents in their campaign.  Also, the play is about adaptation -- what if the environment was changed so much that the chemistry of the human body was changed as well?

What is the audience going to experience when they come out to the barge in Red Hook?

 We've made the barge into a Brooklyn version of Weeki Wachee.  Since the show is about the changing ocean's environment, we wanted to be close to the water. The barge is a former commercial coffee barge, so there are two big doors, which will be open for part of the performance, and the audience will look out at New York harbor and be able to see the Statue of Liberty. The set is made entirely of reclaimed plastic, materials that our cast collected and saved.  We're really using every corner of the barge, and gradually the plastic will take up more and more space of the barge..
That sounds like an effective thematic visual.  What about the mermaids?
You're going to see mermaids, but we've done a theatrical interpretation of the underwater show.  We have put the mermaid performers within our plastic set, and our idea of the plastic gyre, which envelops the whole place.  The action of the play follows the campaign to save Weeki Wachee Park and the parallel erosion of the ocean.
Who are some of the characters?
There's a crusty sea captain, Horus, who spends a lot of time on his ship.  He may or may not be smuggling adapted creatures.  He also delivers mail to the park, via messages in bottles, and he may be in love with mayor Robyn Anderson.  Other characters are based on real mermaid performers, who we met when we went down there, like Mermaids Marcy, Ashley and Lauryn.  There's also an iceberg explorer named John, who gets marooned at the park, and Miranda, the Mad Mermaid of the Gyre.  And the whole cast will double as a group of scientists investigating the ocean.
Waterfront Museum & Showboat Barge, 290 Conover St., Pier 44, Red Hook, Brooklyn, (212) 868-4444. April 23-May 9. Fri., Sat. & Sun., 7 p.m. $18.

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