Review: The Orphan Sea
Symbolism Over Story
As someone who is fairly active in the Theatre Department here at Skidmore, I had very little idea of what to expect from our production of The Orphan Sea. The play, written by Caridad Svich, is not a conventional script, but an amalgamation of choruses performed by multiple people. They are not exactly the characters or stage directions that one would find in a traditional performance. This piece was clearly written to be interpreted in a variety of ways, which gives a great deal of liberty to the director. Moreover, since this is only the second time it has been performed, Eunice Ferreira was able to craft The Orphan Sea in her own, unique vision. While the production was wonderfully put together, the script has some inherent problems that went unsolved. The show as a whole is so experimental that it makes every other production this semester look like a soap opera.
I Sea What You Did There
Before the play begins, the audience gets to gaze upon the fantastic design of the set. The floor had a blue-ish hue that resembled water. The wooden walls on the sides were reminiscent of a ship, which strengthens the theme of “crossing rivers and seas.” The story does not entirely take place on a ship, so lights were essential in conveying a change in location, and lighting designer Chloe Brush did a phenomenal job. Projections were also used occasionally throughout the show as a visual aid, so props to the technical crew.
Speaking of props, it surprised me how much the cast was able to accomplish with so few items. A rolling sandbox, ropes, blankets, and a microphone were the only objects of note, and everything else was portrayed through tableaus. For example, during the river sequence, the people of the city acted as the water, attempting to pull the Odysseus chorus under. This scene was incredibly well coordinated and made for a very intense viewing.
Although none of the actors were substandard, the chorus style required each player to have nearly impeccable timing, especially when they had to speak in unison with one another. When this was properly executed, the dialogue was almost musical, but there were many moments where the timing was off, or when it was evident that not everyone in a certain group knew the lines. The strongest performances came from the Odysseus and Penelope choruses, but even they were not always in sync.
While we are on the subject of being N Sync, the song “Cry Me a River” by Justin Timberlake was shoehorned into the production because one of the choruses says the line “cry me a river.” This may have seemed like a neat little addition, but the song is extremely out of place with the rest of the soundtrack. Even though the time period in which the story takes place is never explicitly stated, JT’s hit song seems like a blatant anachronism, as did the use of Google Maps. Most of the music and projections expressed an ancient, multicultural theme, which seemed to be the director’s intended focus. However, the aforementioned inclusions only muddled this message.
An Ode to The Odyssey
At the end of the day, The Orphan Sea attempts to display a theme of unity through the story of The Odyssey, which is certainly conveyed through the diverse cast, design choices, and music selections. However, nothing in the story itself would lead viewers to grasp that as the main message. It is merely a retelling of Homer’s epic poem filled with bizarre sequences, such as having the cast recite “lessons” like they are listing the rules of Fight Club or singing about how humans are “futile beings.” At least the Justin Timberlake song wasn’t so depressing.
Furthermore, given how progressive this production tried to be in terms of race, I was astonished at how sexist it was at times. To imply that all Penelope can do is wait for Odysseus to come home is very patriarchal. Granted, that is the story of The Odyssey, but it would have been easy enough to have a female Odysseus and a male Penelope, or even a same-sex pairing. This would have maintained the progressive view that the show exhibits for race across multiple social issues.
Overall, the Skidmore Theater Department’s production of The Orphan Sea looked spectacular and sounded even better, but a few odd choices and the ridiculously experimental source material held it back from greatness.
Final Score: 6/10
**All photos by Sue Kessler