The Average-Sized Mermaid
nytheatre.com review by Case Aiken
August 15, 2011
It’s not often that I start mentally writing a review in my head while watching a play, but I found myself really enjoying The Average-Sized Mermaid, a new play in this year’s FringeNYC Festival by Jessica Fleitman, and couldn’t help but want to praise it. Despite some issues that became more obvious as the show went on, The Average-Sized Mermaid may well be one of my favorite FringeNYC shows to date.
Taking the classic tale of "The Little Mermaid" (and its original, non-Disney anti-feminine metaphors) and holding it against the modern woes of relationships, Fleitman constructs a quirky and entertaining world that is just off-kilter enough to accept that a woman for metaphorical reasons is literally transformed into a mermaid when her boyfriend dumps her. It’s a surreal premise that could be overly preachy or elitist, but it manages to walk the line very well.
My enjoyment comes less from the premise, however, and more from the hilarious character interplay and original personalities that dominate the piece. Fleitman has a real knack for dialogue and has managed to make even the raw spots of the show still shine. Credit must also be given to the direction by Paula D’Alessandris, and the extremely comedic performances, particularly Vinnie Penna as Louis Leland and David J. Goldberg as Barry Pesci, which takes the very good dialogue and insane logic to a place where I was laughing hard enough that I worried I might upset the rest of the audience—only to realize they were right there with me.
There are weaknesses, mind you. The show runs long and there are several scenes that feel like filler, particularly in the second act. I couldn’t help but feel that some of the characters existed only to keep the parts more equally divided. Yes, the witch doctor they go to in the hopes of curing the mermaid of her tail provides a great gag—but really the gag could have been passed over to the Dr. Pesci character, as the scene just pushed off the inevitable conclusion. If some of the lesser parts were cropped out and the transitions expedited, the play could be running as a brisker 90 minute one-act, which would strengthen both the comedic as well as the more emotional moments. The play starts out so strong and keeps the energy up through the whole of the first act, but it falters in the second act, as everything that happens is fairly obvious and made me just want it to come together quicker. I just hope that future productions tighten the run somewhat.
I really liked this show. I can’t stress this enough. It’s easily in my top three festival shows of all time and one of the best pieces I’ve seen in a long time. A little chaff-shaving and I could see this going much farther and I wish the team who are working on it the best.