The Sea Lion | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Sea Lion 

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The Sea Lion, at the Duncan YMCA Chernin Center for the Arts. Ken Kesey had an interesting idea or two in his children's book The Sea Lion: A Story of the Sea Cliff People: redo The Tempest with Caliban as hero and Ferdinand as villain and redo the Gospels with a Christ who's not the miracle-working son of God but a cripple born to a slave. The two ideas compete for primacy in Ifa Bayeza's stage adaptation of Kesey's story, but both are overthrown by the authors' neocolonialist notion that things are truer if they're connected with Native Americans. The result is a one-act version of that old commercial with the Indian chief crying a single tear over the earth's destruction: our condescension masquerades as appreciation.

This attitude governs not only the portrayal of the sea cliff people--some denatured combination of the Inuit, the Tlingit, and Longfellow's folk on the shores of Gitche Gumee--but the central task of rendering this fable meaningful for adults. The production contains a fairly vivid representation of rape, confirming the box-office warning that the piece is not for children. But who is it for? Adults who favor killing the Messiah or sacrificing life to maintain class distinctions are unlikely to attend. Anyone who does will be put off by Deeply Rooted Productions' overearnest, overliteral choreography and Frank Pullen's direction, which requires the actors to commit oratory instead of speaking and to chortle onomatopoeically ("BWA-ha-ha!") when they should be laughing.

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