Final Night – “The Language of the Mermaids” by Mariana de Althaus

The Language of the Mermaids – A Review by Angelina Llongueras
In this play a threatening sea is a powerful presence confronting a very superficial and well-to-do family that seems to live in an unshakable world of their own, where their pretence of their assumed social ‘importance’ keeps them from realizing the danger they are putting themselves in by being so oblivious to forces that are much bigger than their fragile fabricated ‘reality’.
This roaring and frightening ocean brings an unexpected gift: a Quechua-speaking mixed-race mermaid – the language and the colour of the deep yet often hidden realities for middle class Peruvians – which have been despised and ignored as a matter of ‘lack of category’, and who have become fantastical unintelligible creatures for families like this one. Only the worried and all-too-subservient maid seems to be aware of the fact that helping the mermaid is a much-needed remedy for restoring balance to this distorted family.
There is an antagonism between the parents – incarnating the false pretence in which they live: the «all powerful» businessman who fires anyone from a lesser social status disagreeing with his whims – who immediately thinks of commercializing the mermaid, and turning it into a more «gringa» creature so it can sell better – and the jewel bearing, make up fitness concerned mother who is worried about their children’s «neurosis» (specially her daughter’s – who seems to have a hard time putting up with her parent’s shared and complicit snobbery)– and a son who feels jealous of the mixed race lover her mother has managed to bring into the family business.
Fortunately, the call to integrity brought about by the pained mermaid who feels very sick in this very uninspiring atmosphere, and who just asks for a return to the depths of the ocean where she has been extracted from, is capable of turning all these pretences inside out and allows the set of characters to follow their deepest instincts, which are much more inspiring and positive than the false image they have created of themselves and made each other miserable with.
There is thus hope that under the shallow nothingness guiding their lives, the real elements – the ancient language, the humanity uniting them all when they finally decide to live as they see fit and help the mermaid – will prevail and bring much more authenticity and meaning to their lives, It is particularly moving the trip that both boy and girl take to contact the sea, which brings them back to their lives wiser and with a promise of a less distorted future than their parents.
The actors played their parts with feeling and sensitivity though some more rhythm and movement in the way the play was directed would have helped give it more enjoyable nuances that were a bit lost in the reading in my opinion.
By Angelina Llongueras