Trans tween tale 'Mermaid Hour' is about how hope is everywhere -- even on YouTube

Rich Ryan

Rich Ryan

In Mermaid Hour: ReMixed, the parents of a 12-year-old girl muse about how far ahead their daughter's generation is, to the point where they feel like they can't ever catch up. They're not talking about phone apps or text abbreviations (though they could be); they're talking about acceptance of gender diversity.

Mixed Blood Theatre

Scene after scene in David Valdes Greenwood's new play rings true to the experiences of parents who are trying to negotiate the challenging terrain of the tween years while striving to understand and support a transgender child. When you catch your daughter sharing an "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" moment with a male peer, for example, how does the fact that she's trans and he's gay factor into your response?

That exchange has young Vi (Azoralla Arroyo Caballero) and her friend Jacob (Meng Xiong) talking about what just happened while Vi's parents Pilar (Thallis Santesteban) and Bird (Michael Hanna) go back and forth with Jacob's mom Mika (Sheena Janson), and it's set to the funkiest music in the show.

Yes, funky. The "remixed" part of Mermaid Hour: ReMixed is that Minneapolis composer Eric Mayson has written original songs to incorporate into Greenwood's play, which is at Mixed Blood Theatre as part of a rolling world premiere. The songs, with Mayson and a rhythm section playing live accompaniment, add welcome variety to a play that's otherwise less interesting in its texture than in its themes.

Greenwood does have the good sense not to overstuff his play, recognizing that there's more than enough drama inherent in the moment he's chosen to spotlight: a few weeks in the life of Vi's family as she approaches puberty and her parents struggle with the question of whether to initiate hormone treatments.

Vi knows who she is, and she finds comfort in YouTube videos by Crux (Catherine Charles Hammond), a genderqueer artist and social worker who performs as a merperson to metaphorically express the beauty of gender fluidity: one can be simultaneously of the sea and of the land. Part of the verisimilitude of Mermaid Hour comes from its rejection of the knee-jerk generalization that the internet is a wasteland. For a kid like Vi, connecting online can be a lifesaver.

Director Leah Anderson's production is uneven. Hanna and Santesteban have a warm chemistry, but Hanna's performance as a Boston bro feels forced, his swagger turned to 11 when a seven or an eight would do. Jacob's home and Crux's stage are squirreled away in corners opposite the main stage, a decision that distracts more than it informs.

Scenic designer Britton Mauk has, however, made the more interesting decision to mount many of Vi's family's furnishings raised off the floor against a stage wall, creating a surreal sense of suspension — even though, as an audience member on Sunday could be overheard to observe, that means Bird has to keep his beer on a shelf instead of cooling in the unreachable refrigerator.

Vi is the heart of this story, and Caballero's performance is honest and endearing. Mermaid Hour: ReMixed is a truly life-affirming piece of theater, a play about characters who learn to trust their own hearts.