This evening The Ritual Artist and I saw Laura Schellhardt’s new play, Shapeshifter, at Trinity Repertory Company in Providence.
I have not been this blown away, this moved by a theatre piece for a long time. I was utterly rivited from the first line to the last, and I was in tears by the end.
Schellhardt’s 90-minute one-act is flawless in its craftsmanship. It uses ancient (especially Celtic) myths of shape-shifting animals — the selkie, the dragon, the swan — as metaphors for the person (especially the woman) drawn into love, into family, into relationship. In this jewel of a script we see all the variations: the one who flees, the one who is let go, the one who is trapped. We see all of this through the eyes of a child who has lost her mother, as she befriends a selkie and witnesses all the variations before her eyes. She speaks through fables, and through trying to learn her spelling book, and trying to understand her loss. The weave is so complex, so subtle, yet so smooth it made my jaw drop. How does she do that? And where do i learn how?
Now, I don’t know whether this play would have hit me so hard with a less brilliant cast. I’ve known the work of Anne Scurria, Brian McEleney, Rachael Warren and Stephen Thorne for years. They were all dead-center on target — Rachael was the best I’ve ever seen her, and that’s saying a lot. I don’t know Miriam Silverman’s work as well, but suffice it to say that when she left the theatre in her street clothes I didn’t recognize her; she inhabited that little girl’s body so completely that I was convinced she was that child, and the woman who went home seemed a different species. (Fred Sullivan and Joe Wilson, two actors I admire greatly, were also quite good, but each of them has done better work recently. I’ll just mention Fred’s Falstaff and Joe’s Williy Stark, for a start.)
This play is going places. If it doesn’t become a repertory classic, I don’t know anything about the business.