Merman or Mermaid?

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Puppets are still fun, even if you’re not in Kindergarten anymore /Image:  Bruce Vasselin

Puppets are still fun, even if you’re not in Kindergarten anymore /Image: Bruce Vasselin

Lipstick Smears and Mermaid Tears is good but confusing

Article: Destiny Kaus – A&C Writer

Tamara Unroe, the playwright, visual artist, and puppeteer of Lipstick Smears and Mermaid Tears: Memoirs of a Sinking Soul collaborated with Mariann Taubensee’s visual art talents to take their stationary art exhibit to the stage.

“It started off as an art installation for a gallery in Saskatoon … and then I decided to do a shadow show/puppet show in amongst the installation. It’s kind of the story of a discarded object’s life. What happens to a discarded object after it’s thrown away?”

As soon as I heard this description of the play, I was captured by its concept. I have never seen a play about a discarded object. Though I loved the set design and Unroe’s passion during her performance, I did not enjoy the play. It left me utterly bewildered.

On a positive note, the set design was visually stunning. Unroe and Taubensee created an under-the-sea set using materials solely taken from garbage dumps and recycle bins. Torn, white garbage bags and milk jug handles were laced together to fashion eerie fish skeletons. CDs, Nestea bottle caps, burnt matchsticks, and a host of other objects formed bright red, blue, and green ocean coral. Old pieces of scrap metal shaped odd sea creatures. My eyes became pleasantly overwhelmed by this colour-popping set. Who knew one could make art out of trash? For this, I give the artists much due credit.

I also commend Unroe for her sincere passion for art and drama. Though the audience and I could see her on stage nearly the entire time, she exuded her passion by really getting into the play. She moved the puppets very smoothly, made her own sound effects of waves rising and falling, and changed her voice as best she could to speak as an old, decrepit merman and a flamboyant, female coffee cup.

On the other hand, I was very disappointed with the overall storyline.

Unroe states, “It’s a story of an aging merman who is patrolling the seas for garbage and his life.”

[pullquote]“It’s a story of an aging merman who is patrolling the seas for garbage and his life.”[/pullquote]

I understand this, but I could not tell whether or not the merman was boating atop the sea or under the sea. There was not enough separation between the underwater scene and the scene above water.

Additionally, as the play went on, this dilapidated merman formed a relationship with a seemingly young coffee cup. This baffled me. How on earth does a merman fall in love with a coffee cup? Maybe I’m just thinking too logically on this one, but this part of the plot confused the heck out of me.

The merman seemed slightly narcoleptic because he took numerous naps during the production. I know that this was because Unroe had to go backstage to perform her shadow puppets, but couldn’t she have come up with a more creative way to change scenes?

Quite a way into the play, I became deeply befuddled by the merman’s realization of his tail. I keep asking myself, “How did this merman not know he had a tail when it is attached to his body?” A merman not realizing he has a tail is like me realizing I have legs. It does not make sense.

No, I am not dense. I have participated in and seen numerous plays over the years, so I can attest to the fact that I am very good at understanding plots. This one, however, went right over my head.

One other dimension that bothered me about the shadow puppet scenes was that I could hear Unroe flipping through shadow puppets and overhead slides backstage. This annoyed me. I used to be the backstage manager for various dramatic productions, so I can comprehend the importance of keeping everything quiet backstage. I cannot stand hearing even the smallest noises from behind the curtain. So, when I heard the puppets and slides getting shuffled around backstage, I got really distracted.

As for the title, (Lipstick Smears and Mermaid Tears: Memoirs of a Sinking Soul) it makes sense in one way, but not in another. The coffee cup does in fact have large lipstick smears on it. But, shouldn’t the title say “Merman” instead of “Mermaid” since, by definition, a mermaid is a female mythological sea creature and this play centers on a male?

Overall, in my opinion, this play had its ups and downs. It was definitely unique and out-of-the-box, but it lacked certain plot elements to make the story comprehensible. I loved the concept of an odd storyline about a merman (I like weird things), but I don’t think the concept was carried out to its best potential.

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