Musical creator David Valdes Greenwood taps into issues between a transgender adolescent named Vi and her parents in Mermaid Hour: ReMixed. Biracial 12-year-old Vi (Azoralla Arroyo Caballero) is more than eager to get on with the process of transitioning from cisgender male to transgender female. Mixed Blood Theatre is presenting the piece as part of a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere that also plays in other cities. Thanks to the strong directorial hand of Leah Anderson, it is a compelling production.
The talented David Hanna stretches as an actor in the role of Bird, the father tormented about whether or not his child’s insistence on going forward with the transition is wise or not. The actor does the best he can with a role that has been written to a large degree as a not very likable stereotype of the cranky dad who just doesn’t understand. The playwright seems to draw such an image from vintage sitcoms.
Hanna is ably matched by Thallis Santesteban as Vi’s preoccupied mother, Pilar. The internet is the primary source of Pilar’s research, which understandably unsettles Bird. Though It never seems to have dawned on her that maybe that source may not be the most reliant. Especially for something as consequential as a gender transition. Clearly one would want the most reliant information available. Sansesteban reveals what people are like when they live in such a deep haze of the mind consulting the mind about the mind, so much that the person thinking loses touch with reality and is thrown to play the card of “But I’m doing this out of parental love and everyone’s attacking me!” This is the subtext of one of her ultimate conclusions and of course it deadens any hope of thoughtful discussion. The role also seems more drawn from vintage soaps rather than vintage sitcom. Though there are indeed parents like Pilar, the playwright needs to probe much more deeply and stop fearing revealing some of her serious personal flaws.
Caballero is endearing, and the role is written credibly and with a good deal of compassion for what Vi endures as an adolescent. Pressure on kids who don’t conform to standard gender expectations can be downright cruel, so plays that presence us to that need to be seen.
However, what’s missing in the writing is a truly confrontational exploration of just what may be going on more deeply with Vi. All three main characters have much within that has yet to be explored by Valdes Greenwood.
However, Mermaid Hour: ReMixed compels in production at Mixed Blood because Anderson has made sure the conflicts within the family are portrayed authentically, with high stakes, and with expert pacing. We care about them. One can relate to their strengths and weaknesses.
The production is also enhanced by the charming Meng Xion as Jacob, Vi’s young gay friend, as well as a charismatic Catherine Charles Hammond as a “Merperson” figure who trolls on the internet. (It should be noted that the ethics and problem of adults as predators are not explored by Valdes Greenwod to any real extent.) However, Sheena Jackson gives the finest performance of all as Jacob’s admirable mother, Mika—a woman of fierce intelligence and strength. She is a moral force, tough enough to set boundaries—the opposite of Pilar. She sees complexity more clearly than anyone else in the play.
Eric Mayson’s music reverberates a pleasing jazz and pop sensibility with lyrics by book writer Valdes Greenwood. Bassist Shannon van der Reck and drummer Toby Ram are first rate. Britton Mauk’s set design reflects a cleverly surreal image of a household. Calvin Anderson’s lighting nicely aligns with the emotions evoked by the actors.
Mermaid Hour: ReMixed
Through Apr. 29
Mixed Blood Theatre, 1501 S. 4th St., Minneapolis