Review: ‘The Orphan Sea’ at Cohesion Theatre Company

By Kylie Miller

Cohesion Theatre Company opened their third production of the season with La Llorona by Cecelia Raker and The Orphan Sea by Caridad Svich, which are playing in repertory. The performance of these two full-length plays by the same cast is Cohesion’s first repertory production under the direction of Susan Strope.

The Orphan Sea. Photo by Shaelyn Jae.

Cohesion Theatre Company’s The Orphan Sea. Photo by Shaelyn Jae.

The Orphan Sea is an abstract and poetic play that inspires reflection. It is a newer play, written as a reimagination of the love story between Penelope and Odysseus from Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey. The story has clear connections to the classic written by Homer, but adds entirely new concepts and plot points.

The story is told through three ensembles of three actors; one representing Penelope, another representing Odysseus, and the final representing the City. Jonathan Jacobs, Laura Malkus, and Natanya Washer make up the Penelope Chorus while Chara Bauer, Christian Gonzalez, and Mani Yangilmau comprise the Odysseus Chorus. Mika J Nakano, Emily Sucher, and Mia Ybarra are the City Chorus, often functioning as the main facilitators of the play’s plot.

The ensembles of three work beautifully as they depict the complex characters that are Odysseus and Penelope. Though there are three actors working to play one character, each exhibits a unique identity and personality. As the story moves forward, the reconnection of Penelope and Odysseus is represented by pairing three different couples to portray them. I found this particularly intriguing as each couple seemed to represent a different aspect of their relationship. The three couples communicate the complicated emotions Penelope and Odysseus face after being apart for so long.

Director Susan Strope tapped into the poetic nature of the play, bringing motifs full circle and utilizing the physicality of each actor to create effective storytelling. The performers communicate with the audience through singing, humming, dancing, and more. This production is very movement-oriented, to the extent that not a single action feels unintentional. The piece is in constant motion and even when actors are frozen, it is done with great purpose.

The Orphan Sea. Photo by Shaelyn Jae.

The Orphan Sea. Photo by Shaelyn Jae.

Scenic design by Jess Rassp allows the action to play out on varying levels with strong and cohesive design elements. Lighting is elaborate and effective, designed by Helen Garcia-Alton. The set is visually appealing with attractive scenic paintings and cohesive color schemes. Audience members must walk through gates to arrive at their seats, physically immersing them in the world of the play. The intimate style of The Orphan Sea allows the characters to interact with audience members. There are immersive qualities to this production as actors break the fourth wall and at some points even sit in the audience. I personally would have enjoyed seeing even more immersive tactics used throughout the entire play.

The director chose to blend time periods through costumes and music. While The Orphan Sea is not a modern take on The Odyssey, it is performed for a modern audience. Parallels are made between the love story of Penelope and Odysseus and contemporary issues and situations.

At the core of The Orphan Sea, there is a lesson to be learned about time. The intense emotions that come with change, love, and loss are told through the cadence of the play, specifically by the power of movement. There is an optimistic tone to this piece that unfolds as Penelope and Odysseus adapt, learn, and grow. This show is relevant to audiences whether or not they are familiar with The Odyssey and the story of Penelope and Odysseus. The Orphan Sea is an entertaining and unique show that takes its audiences to unexpected places in unexpected ways.

Running Time: About two hours, including a 15-minute intermission.

The Orphan Sea plays through April 15, 2018, at Cohesion Theatre Company performing at “The Fallout Shelter” at United Evangelical Church– 923 S. East Ave, in Baltimore, MD. Tickets can be purchased online.

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