Saturday, May 11, 2024

"Sea Cabinet" at Theatre Elision

Almost five years ago, Theatre Elision brought us the first US production of Sea Cabinet, a charming song cycle written by British singer-songwriter Gwyneth Herbert. At the time I called it "a collection of lovely, melodic, interesting, unique songs around a common theme of the sea, and specifically a woman walking along the sea collecting objects." I was happy to revisit it again with their new production, this time in Theatre Elision's home, the Elision Playhouse in Crystal, where it feels closer and cozier than it did in the gorgeous expanse of the Southern Theater. They've brought back the original cast and creative team, and I was reminded just how lovely it is. Even though there are no clearly defined characters or storyline, the songs taken together as a whole create an experience that's gorgeous and moving, beautifully brought to life by Elision. If you like original and unique music-theater, that's a tight 70 minutes that'll leave you wanting more, see Sea Cabinet as it continues this weekend and next.

The composer describes the piece thusly: "Every day, a woman walks the beach alone, obsessively collecting every discarded and washed up object that she finds. She takes them home to catalogue each one with the care and rigour of a scientist. The artefacts are then placed in 'The Sea Cabinet', and every one sings with the memory of a secret sea-set story." Four women dressed in roomy dresses, cozy cardigans, and sturdy boots guide us through the dozen songs which are each a little story in themselves (the program gives some background on each of the songs). Interesting rhythms, lovely melodies, gorgeous harmonies, some melancholy ballads, some fun and upbeat numbers - a really wonderful collection of songs (the full album is available on YouTube - give it a listen to get a taste of the show). The songs are tied together with short bits of poetic dialogue spoken alternately by the four women. There's no real plot or throughline story, rather variations on the theme of the sea, love, and loss.

Emily Dussault, Vanessa Gamble, Bex Gaunt,
and Christine Wade, photo by Jolie Morehouse-Olson)
The cottage by the sea is represented on the intimate Playhouse stage by set and prop pieces, as well as images and video of the sea, and women by the sea, projected onto a screen at the back of the space. A table littered with objects (including ones referred to in the text), a few cabinets, a cozy armchair, a piano, and a myriad of other instruments fill the space. Because not only do Bex Gaunt, Christine Wade, Emily Dussault, and Vanessa Gamble sing beautifully individually and especially together, they also play multiple stringed and percussive instruments. This is in addition to the three-piece band led by music director Harrison Wade on keyboard (and clarinet!). The sound of all these elements combined is gorgeous, and the varied instrumentation is fascinating to watch, and adds interest and a different sound to each song.

Sea Cabinet is a lovely and unique collection of songs, beautifully performed, and the whole thing is inventively staged by director Lindsay Fitzgerald (who is also credited with the design). The songs cover a wide variety of emotions and moods, from melancholy and wistful, to happy and playful. Once again Elision brings us a piece of music-theater that you really can't see anywhere else, adding their own artistry in interpretation, performance, and design.