JANUARY 2021 | Volume 199
The story of Mary Anning, girl fossil hunter, is little known in North America. It’s a good story. At the dawn of the 19th century, a poor English girl from a working-class family in Lyme Regis hunted fossils on the beach. Soon she was supporting her family by selling the “curios” to tourists, and she had become a self-taught expert paleontologist. At 12, she found an almost intact ichthyosaurus skeleton and became a sensation. But she was only a girl, poor and uneducated, so others—wealthy educated men—would take credit for her many finds over the next few decades, and her theories would be ignored. She wouldn’t even be allowed access to the Royal Geological Society, much less membership.
She Sells Sea Shells (the tongue-twister apparently references Mary) by English playwright Helen Eastman has a perky, bossy Mary (Krista Skwarok) tell her own story to the audience with the help of two other actors (Isaac Li and Hannah Pearson) whom she directs. They stage the geological vs. the theological/creationist argument; a “waltz of gentlemen” who come to buy her fossils; and a short history of men in science among other clever set pieces. Director Sarah Rodgers adds some fun choreography by Melissa Sciarretta, music by Christopher King and lighting by Brad Trenaman to give the otherwise pedestrian script some theatrical oomph.
The actors are charming despite struggling with accents and the play’s cutesy tone. Mary resents being a victim of her time and place, hobbled by her gender and class. She remains in full control of the narrative, even inventing different endings for herself and her story. But the play’s Fringe origins, its theatrical minimalism and condensed character development remain all too evident.
And watching live theatre on Zoom … I’ll just sound like a broken record. Suffice to say it’s a mismatch of media. Bravo to United Players for sustaining their season when other companies have simply shut their doors or gone to audioplays to wait out the pandemic. But it’s an uphill struggle.
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