In Keian McKee's new play Pollywog, the lead character is a woman named Polly. About to go on her first ocean swim, she has her mother's ashes with her. As a child, Polly was being taught how to swim by her mother, but those lessons stopped suddenly when her mother had a debilitating stroke.
The comedy, making its world premiere here, follows the adult Polly on her swim as she encounters various characters from her past. There's her mother (both pre- and post-stroke), her father (a former sailor, he's a cemetery salesman) and several imaginary playmates (they helped Polly care for her mother). Oh, and a couple of Hollywood swim idols (think Esther Williams and Johnny Weissmuller) are also in the water.
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Playwright Keian McKee says she had the title Pollywog before she had the lead character's name. "I was interested in telling a story about personal evolution, how each of us must develop and change based on our environments and the life circumstances that befall or benefit us," she tells us. "The transparent development process that frogs go through--from egg, to tadpole with tail, to tadpole with limbs, to frog comfortable on land or in water--seemed a fitting symbol for capturing a young woman's physical, cognitive and emotional development."
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The characters (played by James Belcher, Celeste Roberts, Courtney Lomelo, Jason Duga and Autumn Clack) spend some time swimming during the play, but Mildred's Umbrella Artistic Director Jennifer Decker tells us there won't be any water on the stage. Jennifer Wood, local dancer and Artistic Director of modern dance company, Suchu Dance, worked with the actors and director to develop swimming-like movements using elements of modern dance. "There will also be light projections that help with the mood," Decker says.
Director Matt Huff requested a choreographer, not only for the swimming segments, but in order to achieve a particular physical quality to the production as a whole. "From the beginning, I knew the show needed a stylized physicality which is why I requested to work with a choreographer," Huff tells us. "And in order to achieve any stylized movement, I needed actors who were comfortable with movement and dance."
Huff wasn't looking for swimmers when he cast Pollywog, but he got them. "The play is about swimming, and...I was originally planning to have a swim coach spend some time with the cast in order to teach them the proper technique for each stroke," he tells us. "Strangely enough, everyone in the cast was a competitive swimmer at some point, so they already knew them! Swimming experience was not something I was looking for during auditions, so this turned out to be a very convenient coincidence."
See Pollywog at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays. Through August 16. Studio 101, 1834 Spring Street. For information, call 832‑463‑0409 or visit mildredsumbrella.com. Pay-as-you-can to $20.