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REVIEW: Snagged by a Ballad of the Pale Fisherman‘s Line (Transatlantic Love Affair)

Transalantic Love Affair (“TLA”) staged a revival this past weekend of its famed Ballad of the Pale Fisherman as part of the Southern Theatre’s Artshare program for 2016. Director Isabel Nelson conceived the play based upon a Celtic legend about seals called Selkies who transform into women by removing their skins. This play originated as a show at the 2010 Minnesota Fringe Festival and it was later made into a longer full-length play. I first heard about how incredible Ballad was when I attended TLA’s 2012 Fringe show Ashland and I have been anxious for an opportunity to finally see it. I was not disappointed with Friday night’s performance and it is by far the best example of TLA’s engrossing story telling skills.

Through movement, dialog and music, TLA creates the world of a dying Celtic fishing village by the sea. The cast’s impressive movement work and hissing sounds, along with the lighting design of Mike Wangen, create the sound, look, and movement of the sea’s shoreline so convincingly that at times it seems you can smell the sea. In TLA’s signature style, the cast’s movements also create the props, such as a boat being hauled or a fishing net being thrown. The only physical prop in the show is the stool and the accordion of the narrator at the edge of the stage.

The entire cast is first rate as the cast seamlessly alternates between their individual roles and their role in the ensemble in weaving this story. Derek Lee Miller, who composed the accordion score, narrates and plays the accordion music (a significant part of the overall atmosphere). Diogo Lopes plays the lonely Fisherman who discovers a seal in his fishing net one night and his hesitation in killing the seal gives the Selkie (played by Emily King) time to remove her skin to reveal she is a woman. When the Fisherman accidentally loses the seal skin in the sea, the Selkie has no choice but to go home with him. Both Lopes and King use their facial expressions and movements to show their individual loneliness and their eventually ability to find happiness with each other…even if it is only for a short time.

The comic relief for this show is provided by Heather Bunch, Adelin Phelps, and Allison Witham, who play a trio of old village women. The ensemble is rounded out by Alex Hathaway as the Fisherman’s childhood friend, whose lack of compassion for another Selkie triggers a crisis that threatens the Fisherman’s happiness.

If you see no other TLA production, you should not miss this latest production of Ballad since it may take another four years before it returns. TLA truly creates an enchanting world for telling this fable.

Ballad of the Pale Fisherman plays at the Southern Theatre through June 17.

Bev Wolfe