Midge's regret-ridden father, Mike, is wary, but fierce bachelor chum Douglas is jealous. Soon he's hoarding a violent shape shifter of his own, a swan forcibly separated from her feathery plumage, and aiming for shotgun nuptials. All of the play's transformers are played by one actress, the balletic Rachael Warren, who, whether one spirit or three, represents female selfhood sacrificing part of its essence for human love and domesticity. But the play is less about its shape shifters than it is about Midge, who must finally reconcile her strange, instinctual gifts and agitated grief with an embrace of life and community. That doesn't mean that the cryptic plotting and triple casting aren't confusing. Like Elizabeth Egloff's contemporary fairy tale The Swan, which it resembles, Shapeshifter is notable more for its atmospheric smoke and mirrors than for its thematic clarity.
Nonetheless, Trinity rises to the play's lyrical, otherworldly occasion. Schellhardt began her feminist spin on Celtic and other legends six years ago, while a grad student at Brown, so the play's professional premiere, helmed by Laura Kepley, is a return to the roost for this young recipient of a TCG National Playwriting Residency with the Providence troupe. And the company brings urgency, sweetness, and a sense of the surreal to the script. On Loy Arcenas's craggy set, a pebbly cove nestles before a crude sort of house with two unanchored beams floating above the kitchen. Vets Brian McEleney and Anne Scurria exude an almost giddy earthiness as Fierson and his wife, Maud, and Stephen Thorne imbues the passive Tom with a gentle knowingness. Fred Sullivan Jr. and Joe Wilson Jr. convey the yearning beneath the toughness of seafaring, gun-toting Mike and Douglas. And though pigtailed Miriam Silverman is no child, her troubled Midge eschews cuteness for genuine wonder.
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