SELINSGROVE — This is not your granddaughter’s mermaid story. No fairy tale of singing sea inhabitants, this play means business.

The Susquehanna University Theatre Department will present “The Mermaid of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” directed by guest artist Courtney Laine Self, as part of its 2021-22 Main Stage Season.

The five-person show focuses on Marnie, a biology student who is hiding an angry mermaid in her apartment as she tries to convince the mermaid to give first-hand testimony to the dangers of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — a real-life accumulation of ocean plastics twice the size of Texas floating in the ocean between Hawaii and California.

The mermaid, however, has her doubts that people will care enough to hear her out, and tells that to Marnie in her own, direct way.

“She’s not Ariel at all,” said Grace Yurko, a junior who portrays the mermaid. “Marnie has her views. The mermaid has her views. They’re a little more aggressive.”

As the story unfolds, Marnie and the mermaid interact with Will, the apartment repairman, Dr. Peterson, a professor, and Sandy, a pizza delivery person.

“She’s put into an environment she’s never seen before, seeing a mermaid,” said Logan Andres, the sophomore who portrays Sandy. “She quickly thinks on her feet and always has to ask herself, ‘How am I going to get out of this?’”

Courtney Laine Self, a freelance director based in New York City, is the guest director for the show.

“It’s quirky, but also gritty,” she said. “There’s a real darkness to this play. It demands to be taken seriously.”

Andres, noting that her generation grew up with fanciful mermaid stories, said she thought it would be cool to be in a play featuring the exotic sea creature. But as Yurko pointed out, this scheming mermaid has no patience with the humans who are poisoning her home.

“She’s kind of a mean mermaid,” Yurko said, “but she’s entertaining.”

The play is a good choice to kick off the Theatre Department’s season, which is based on climate change, Yurko said.

Like many people, Andres was surprised to learn that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch actually exists.

“I didn’t know this was a thing,” she said.

Laine Self agreed, saying she learned how important the ocean is, just like trees, in producing oxygen for humans to breathe. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s website, “Scientists estimate that 50-80% of the oxygen production on Earth comes from the ocean. The majority of this production is from oceanic plankton ….”

“I did not know the ocean is responsible for keeping us alive as much as it is,” Laine Self said. “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is out in the middle of the ocean, killing the ocean. If the ocean dies, we die.”

The mermaid, angry at the increasing accumulation of garbage, scoffs at Marnie for thinking a mermaid’s words can make a difference.

Laine Self citing one of Marnie’s lines, said, “It’s hard for people to wrap their head around what they can’t see.” She added, “This play couldn’t have a more urgent theme or message.”

Theatre Department students are excited to finally being able to produce an in-person play, Yurko said. They’ve even taken the necessary obstacle of facial masks and made them part of the show. The theater will be at 50 percent capacity and masks will be required.

As hard as life has been for the past year-and-a-half, the fact that the Theatre Department is still producing shows is reason enough to come together in one space, Laine Self said, especially to see a performance with such an important topic.

“The play is doing the thing that theatre should do,” she said, “which is to start a conversation.”

All tickets for Department of Theatre productions can be purchased through the box office located in the Degenstein Campus Center Theater lobby. The box office is open from noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Tickets can be purchased in person or by calling 570-372-ARTS.

Cindy O. Herman lives in Snyder County. Email comments to her at CindyOHerman@gmail.com

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