There is a beautifully transcendent quality to The Only Animal’s Sea of Sands, a site-specific play taking place on the beach at Spanish Banks, which harkens back to the tradition of West Coast storytelling.
With the Pacific Ocean as its backdrop and the white sandy beach for a stage, the story opens with James (Billy Marchenski) recovering from a fall, on the very beach we are situated, and is now suffering from amnesia. Keen to regain his memory, James pushes his wife Helen (Ashley Bodiguel) to help him remember. Helen would prefer that this past remains hidden.
Through a series of flashbacks told with the assistance of the narrator (played by Matt Palmer in a photo right by Michael Sider), playwright and co-director Eric Rhys Miller weaves a story that mixes the ordinary with the mythological. We watch as the mundane lives of James and Helen unfold: falling in love over a spilled cup of coffee, their wedding which just happens to have taken on that very beach, the ups and downs of married life. Miller then interjects a temptress bent on pulling the two apart. But this is not just any woman looking to tempt James; she is Sylvie (Tanya Marquardt), a selkie who has recently shed her seal skin to become human.
Miller and his co-director Heidi Taylor use their beach location with great effect. Playing with perspective constantly, we watch the action up-close, in the water and at one point, far away on a small spit of land amongst the real-life visitors, both human and four-legged, to Spanish Banks. This is accomplished with the dialogue part of a soundtrack that includes music and ironically enough the sounds of the waves lapping at the beach’s edge. With the amplified dialogue, Miller and Taylor are free to move their actors without limitation.
At times layered on top of the recorded dialogue, the actors speak the dialogue in unison with their recorded voices and at times simply act out what is being said in their voice over. Both mechanisms provide an additional other-world flavour to the proceedings almost as if they are memory echoes further enhancing the storytelling motif; what is real, what is imagined, what is simply forgotten, what do you wish to forget?
In a city where site-specific theatre is being embraced by more and more local theatre companies, Sea of Sand stands out not only for its locale and relationship to story but in an wizened attempt to reinvent our rich history of storytelling here on Musqueam land.
By Eric Rhys Miller. Directed by Eric Rhys Miller and Heidi Taylor. Presented by The Only Animal. At Spanish Banks West until Sunday, August 28, 2011. Admission by donation. Visit http://www.theonlyanimal.com for reservations and more information.