BWW Review: THE MERMAID HOUR Explores the Complexities of Parenting a Transgender Child, at Milagro Theatre

BWW Review: THE MERMAID HOUR Explores the Complexities of Parenting a Transgender Child, at Milagro Theatre

David Valdes Greenwood's THE MERMAID HOUR opens with a scene that Norman Rockwell might have painted if he were alive today: a mom, dad, and daughter preparing for Thursday Picnic, their weekly tradition of eating Chinese takeout on the floor of the living room while watching "Project Runway." It's just one of the love-filled moments that anchors the family as the parents, Bird (Jed Arkley) and Pilar (Nelda Reyes), deal with pressures like how to make ends meet on a working-class income, the challenges of raising a 12-year-old today, and whether or not to allow Violet (Jaryn Lasentia) to take hormone blockers.

THE MERMAID HOUR is part of a National New Play Network rolling world premiere. The first production opened a few weeks ago in Tucson, AZ, and Milagro's production will be followed by one in Charlotte, NC, and a musical version in Minneapolis, MN.

In most ways, Vi is a typical 12-year-old girl, preoccupied with watching her favorite YouTube channel ("The Mermaid Hour," featuring Crux, a genderqueer character played by Michael Cavazos), pushing boundaries around her cellphone use and clothing choices, and crushing on her gay best friend, Jacob (Kai Hynes). As the two young people navigate the gauntlets of school and the internet, their parents struggle with how best to support their LGBTQ children in a world that's much different from the one they grew up in. The most touching example of this is a conversation between Bird (Vi's dad) and Mika (Jacob's mom, played by Barbie Wu), when Bird, who loves and accepts Vi unconditionally, recalls the moment he realized he would never have the son he had dreamed about. All three of the parents in this play want desperately to do the right thing by their children -- they're just unsure what that right thing is.

THE MERMAID HOUR's biggest impact is the type of story it tells -- there aren't many representations of transgender people in theatre at all, much less transgender children and their families. Milagro's production, directed by Sacha Reich, allows that story plenty of room to breathe, using only a minimal set and a some basic sound and lighting effects. The best performances were from Arkley, whose Bird typifies today's working-class man, as well as the young actors, Lasentia and Hynes.

As THE MERMAID HOUR continues to roll out across the country, hopefully it will reach the parents of LGBTQ children. Currently, it's estimated that up to 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ young people who have either been rejected or thrown out by their families. Bird, Pilar, and Mika provide excellent role models for parents for how to love and support their children, while also acknowledging their own conflicts and grief.

THE MERMAID HOUR runs through April 14. More details and tickets here.

Photo credit: Russell J. Young




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