march 2019 | Volume 177
Image of Christine Quintana and beluga whale by Erin Gleig.
Marine Life is a wacky and often very funny comedy disguised as environmental theatre.
In Rosa Labordé’s three-hander a fanatical environmentalist (Sylvia), her mentally ill brother (John) and a corporate lawyer who falls in love with her (Rupert) comprise a triangle whose dynamic is fueled in part by Sylvia’s constantly calling attention to environmental issues and Rupert’s attempting to reform his behavior accordingly to impress her. During a rainstorm he shows up in her apartment in a wet suit and flippers.
Environmental degradation gets frequent mention—microplastics in the sea, pharmaceuticals flushed down the toilet—but ultimately serve the play more as metaphor than as theme: “I’m a fish out of water”: “You caught me and now you want to throw me back”; “We’re all in the same boat.”
Diane Brown’s handsome Ruby Slippers production at the Firehall made me laugh but never convinced me that the play had anything serious to say about saving the earth.
Rupert (Sebastien Archibald) meets Sylvia (Christine Quintana), appropriately, while he’s fishing. She, of course, is appalled. He’s so smitten with her that he not only gives up fishing but quits his corporate job to pursue her.
He’s persistent and sweet—and Archibald is terrifically funny—in his attempts to woo her. It’s tough because Sylvia, though responsive, has high standards, and especially because her frantically jealous brother (Alen Dominguez) does everything he can to break them up.
John, who calls himself Juan, plays Spanish guitar and sings outrageous Mexican love songs, is good at disruption because he’s pretty crazy. He lives with Sylvia and has learned exactly how to manipulate her emotionally by going off his meds and/or attempting suicide. Though sometimes overly manic, Dominguez too generates some good laughs.
Sylvia mostly plays straight-woman to the two men and serves as a mouthpiece for the play’s ostensible theme. Quintana is fine, but I never believed that she cares as much for Rupert as he does for her.
One of the best things about the production is Jordan Watkins and Ryan McDonald’s video design, a series of striking backdrops—fish in an aquarium, an idyllic country stream, a cityscape through a rainy window—on a giant screen. Not much else is necessary for Drew Facey’s minimal set.
I enjoyed Marine Life but expected something with more substance. I particularly liked the ending because it crosses up comic expectation, though only slightly.
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