Seal the deal
Coming-of-age stories usually have concerned parents, angsty teenagers and a stormy, awkward romance between 14-year-olds. Selkie has all this—and in many ways follows the standard coming-of-age formula—but it also throws in a kidnapping, webbed hands and love affairs with seals.
Director Amanda Alvey’s debut production, even if it is wedged into Hug High School’s theater, comes out looking very nice. The lighting is dramatic and pretty, the set tells the audience where they are, and then, like most good sets, gets the hell out of the way for the action. Even the costuming, with one exception, gives a good sense of the setting—rustic Scotland.
But back to the subject of having sex with fuzzy ocean creatures—the story kicks off with a guy named Duncan (Jeff Bentley) kidnapping a seal. The seals, which the characters call “selkies,” come to shore one midsummer night’s eve to shed their skins, turn into humans and dance around. Duncan, smitten with the brown furred seal, steals her pelt and therefore controls her.
We then flash ahead 14 years where we see Duncan and the seal, now called Margaret (Susanne Schweitzer) have produced an offspring. The resulting progeny, Ellen Jean (Olivia Mello), suffers from some identity issues and a particularly awkward adolescence. The resolution of the play centers on her figuring out how to deal with her new boyfriend, her status as half-seal and the joys of having webbed hands.
Ellen Jean is the central role, and eighth grader Mello delivers a very nice, very cute performance. One of the difficult parts of playing a troubled teenager is getting the angstiness across without annoying the audience. Mellow, even with her inconsistent Scottish accent, minimizes the self-pitying aspect of Ellen Jean and instead focuses on the melancholy, assimilationist part.
Opposite her, Gregory Lintz plays eventual boyfriend Tam (pronounced “Tom,” but spelled in some Scottish fashion). The University of Nevada, Reno sophomore is funny and friendly enough in the role that the audience won’t even notice the potentially creepy middle-school-meets-college love connection until later. Lintz plays younger than he is, and Mello certainly plays older.
Kevin Molina plays Pa, a rotund older man who is half Shakespearean clown and half narrator. He delivers the finest performance of the evening. Also, the makeup people do a good job of making the 27-year-old look 70.
Playing the emotional but almost completely unsympathetic Duncan, Bentley doesn’t get a whole lot to work with, script-wise. That said, he manages to make Duncan into a kind of super-soft, quasi-villain. But he must have pissed off the makeup people because they gave him inch-thick, football field-esque lines on his forehead, making him look something like a ribbed condom.
Schweitzer gives seal-lady Margaret a weary-old-woman-of-the-world vibe while her seal sisters, played by Kimberlee A. Pechnik and Rachel Sliker, dance beautifully on stage. You can tell they’re all related by the way they wear sea-shell pasties.
Selkie is not a world-shattering classic, but it is an eminently likeable thing and perfect for people with kids.