Beach balls and swimming pool floaties in neon tangerine welcome you inside The Wild Project’s airy lobby, where you might even find the playwright herself, in the form of a sexy seal, encouraging audience members to take a Selkie Selfie in front of a backdrop of jewel blue sky and pale sand.
Whenever I think of Krista Knight, radical optimism comes to mind; she brings vibrancy in full force to both her art and life. There’s a sense of playfulness to the way she approaches and even dissects the darkest of subject matters. This is evident in her newest play, Selkie, which has to do with a dysfunctional relationship and women who become entrapped by men.
Deanna (Toni Ann DeNoble) and Keaton (Federico Rodrigues) are pumped with excitement at the prospect of having a fresh start in a new beach town when we meet the happy couple. He chants “body shot” and she flashes her tits to a lamp, almost as a ritual of declaring freedom like spring breakers who don’t know any better. They settle in their motel room (complete with stock art prints on the wall) and this seemingly rosy relationship begins to decompose before your very eyes.
Before long, we realize the husband and wife aren’t the happy-go-lucky pair they have presented. They are not here on vacation, but rather, on exile, at least for Deanna. With her passport “confiscated” by Keaton, who swears by his good intentions and unadulterated love, Deanna declares herself to be “a prisoner in paradise”, which is perfect foreshadowing of the plot to come. In a spiral into a surreal fever dream, the ugliness of greed, male oppression, and an altogether bad romance are exposed. We discover her drug problem and his sleazy attempts at business ventures with the locals.
We are also let in on the more private aspects of Deanna and Keaton’s relationship – the stuff that happens in the dark, literally. The couple seems to have rough sex at night, which director Matt Dickson stages completely in the dark, leaving the specific actions to the audience’s imagination. We can only guess what really happened when something kinky turns hinky for the pair. When either of them protests in pain, the other apologizes in earnest.
Then we meet the Selkie.
Selkies or Selkie folks are mythological beings in Scottish lore capable of therianthropy, changing from seal to human form by shedding their skin. Many of those tales revolve around those shape-shifting lady seals being coerced into relationships with men who steal and hide their sealskin.
Alondra (Eliz Monte-Brown) is caught in the same fate when her path becomes intertwined with Deanna and Keaton. Deanna becomes attached to Alondra because she is in need of companionship, and Keaton, sees Alondra as a business opportunity. Alondra becomes the couple’s hostage, and with her cousins threatening to seek revenge on Keaton, he becomes even more violent, tilting toward tyrannical.
Knight cleverly pairs up the two women to illustrate their similar imprisonment: they are both stripped of their power and neither can escape the agenda of a man. What’s worse, as time passes, what blunts the will is no longer the lack of their freedom, but the comfort of familiarity.
We see the tragedy of this toxic relationship clearly, but with a refreshingly high-energy rhythm, and a fearless embrace of humor. Selkie is an entertaining play even as it gives you pause and makes you go, “Oh shit!” Yana Birykova’s projections add to the production’s sleekness and seamlessly transition between moments of the surreal and naturalistic (but nevertheless highly stylized) scenes. Reid Thompson’s set is functional and effective and with Cecelia Durbin’s lighting design, this production achieves something many others might easily fail: two simultaneous scenes in separate locations are communicated effectively at once, within a space that is limiting in scale.
Some of the non-verbal storytelling moment are somewhat confusing. I became almost fixated on deciphering what some of the more choreographed gestures meant: on several occasions she would hold his chin with one hand, which is reminiscent of a motif that frequents Greek mythology.
Selkie is a fascinating play that’s been skillfully staged. The piece never becomes pedantic, but allows the messages to land as the characters discover themselves as well as their situations.