Lee Mai & Mollie Murk. Photo courtesy Eli Keel.
Fabled Fragments Chapter 1 – The Castle under the Sea
Review by Valeri Canon
Entire contents copyright © 2018 Valerie Canon. All rights reserved.
There just isn’t enough live, pop-up, guerrilla theatre in the region. What little there is doesn’t have enough dancing, juggling, or other acrobatics. And even if you find some of that stuff, you don’t usually get an original fairytale that reads like a timeless classic. Suspend Productions seeks to remedy this problem with Fabled Fragments Chapter 1: The Castle Under the Sea. This short play, written and co-directed by Eli Keel, is the first installment in a series of pieces (“fragments”) that tell a larger story, each of which is performed only once per month at a new venue. This one took place before a good-sized audience in the courtyard behind the 803 building on East Market Street. There was little danger of wandering into this one by mistake, and virtually no risk of a built-in crowd.
Alex (Mollie Murk) is a present-day graduate student on a quest for a manuscript, which is kept by the wizened Sophia (Katherine Martin). Sophia tells Alex the story of a Wicked King (Lee Mai) who lures a young mother to his undersea lair so he can kill her and raise her child as his own. The child, Saskia (Rachel Petty), grows up and is eventually told of the King’s past misdeeds by an underwater spirit (Avery Johnson). The tale ends on a cliffhanger (I don’t guess spoilers are an issue here); the King having removed Saskia’s ability to breathe underwater, Sophia stops mid-story to go to a doctor’s appointment.
Throughout Sophia’s story, we see a full range of talents on display: juggling, modern dance with classical elements, acrobatics, and of course acting. The cast is truly a mixed bag. You can tell a few are new to acting, but the balance of abilities compensates for that nicely – every one of these performers is seasoned in their own way. The sets, costumes, and props are minimal and consistent, which is nice. And a portable soundtrack (by ***) – played through a single speaker from Keel’s phone – is a synthesized, 1980’s-style score which is delightfully anachronistic both in the present and the distant past. Think Jim Henson’s Storyteller series combined with Stranger Things. The overall result is that you’re just not sure what to make of the whole production, and I expect that’s by design. Suspend is obviously out to challenge conventions of live storytelling. For the most part, it works.
What Suspend is doing is quite brave. This is difficult, demanding theatre. And I don’t mean just because of the dancing and juggling. Moving venues every show presents unique challenges on its own. Here, the actors are only giving themselves one shot at it. This is not a cast that is easily rattled by a one-shot performance. Audience noise, limited space, barking dogs in close proximity – nothing seemed to faze them. Still, such challenges will only be compounded by the risk of presenting a monthly serial to new audiences, getting them caught up, and keeping them engaged, all in the space of about 15 minutes. I’m confident that Suspend can pull it off, and I can’t wait to see how they do it.
Fabled Fragments Chapter 2: The Tale of Two Ravens is happening July 6th, at 8 and 9 pm, at The Night Market, 1007 East Jefferson
Valerie Canon is an actor, director, dancer, model, and choreographer based in the Greater Louisville area. Mrs. Canon received her BFA in ballet performance from Oklahoma University in 2004, and has performed in ballets around the country as a principal, soloist, and corps de ballet member. She recently directed Unhindered and Ungendered: A Killer Show, for Wayward Actors Company in January 2016.