The cast and director of “Shapeshifter,” which opens Friday at LSU’s Shaver Theatre, have one big thing in common with the characters in Laura Schellhardt’s two-act play.
The play’s characters must contend with, and learn from, spirits who change shapes. Seal to woman. Swan to woman. Schellhardt’s play changes shape, too, and not always in a good or interesting way. This is a theatrical work with a promising beginning, a confused, unfocused, low-energy middle, and a strong finish.
We get more good work from Jacob Miller, the play’s storyteller; Aline Stokes, one of the story’s mothers; and Emily Rodriguez, who plays central character Midge, a young woman coming to terms with her mother’s mysterious death.
As the play wears on, mom’s mysterious death seems less and less mysterious. The steadiness of Miller, Stokes and Rodriguez keeps the play between the ditches, but at times scenic designer Ken George’s wonderful, dramatic set, Evan Grant’s lighting and Tyler Kieffer’s sound are way more engaging than the play’s action. Andrea Washington-Brown’s costumes are on the money.
What energy and reason-to-be-in-the-theater “Shapeshifter” has come in scenes well-played by Christopher Silva, a hunter who snares a swan that shifts shape to become a beautiful, hissing, Polly parrot of a bird. Rachel Theriot plays Breeze, the swan. If ever there were a misnamed swan, Breeze is it.
“Shapeshifter” has some light moments, probably Schellhardt’s attempt to give the audience a breather from dragons, shifting seals, hissing swans and bone dumb hunters.
Stokes and Miller handle the comedy like pros, but their characters sound like the Bickersons with Scottish burrs. Stokes’ Maude has no off-button says Miller’s storyteller who can’t shut his yap, either.
This cast of sophomore and senior actors handles the required burr well though at times I found myself searching in vain for the subtitles button. Silva’s brogue needs tweaking, especially in the high octane scenes with the mad bird. Rodriguez’ soft Scottish accent needs volume.
Jenny Downes plays Mairie, a seal who bears one hunter’s child before heading back to the colony. Chase Bouchie plays the hunter. We’re reminded of Mairie’s sealness each time she opens a wooden box crammed with sound effects from her other life.
Monique McCain arrives late in the play as Midge’s mysterious mother. If only she’d caught an earlier ferry.
The play draws on folk tales from the Orkney Islands.
Benjamin Watt plays Midge’s dad, whose character develops slowly. You suspect there’s more to Watt than the character permits. Michelle Bart plays Ruthie. Joanna Battles directed the play and coached vocals.
The play is the LSU Department of Theater’s first main stage production of the season.