Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” meets a revamping of that fairytale, starring a Rain Cloud who becomes obsessed with a rain-loving human, meets the sexual confusion/closeting tendencies of the real-life Andersen. Confused? Admittedly, it takes a minute or two to fully fathom exactly what is going on in terms of the plot/metaplot of Julia Izumi’s play “Sometimes the Rain, Sometimes the Sea.” Once you do pick up the ends of the various threads and begin to understand how they weave together, the production makes for a fun and rather unexpected night of theatre.
…a guaranteed whimsical theatrical experience that offers a fresh, new perspective on Hans Christian Andersen and on storytelling in general.
To outline the story here would be a somewhat difficult feat. A few of the need-to-knows: At the center of the play is “Dolan”—an alias of Hans Christian Andersen. Dolan/Andersen informs the audience that he’s written a new fairytale of sorts, “The Little Rain Cloud.” Theatergoers are thus brought into the action of this brand-new fable. A Rain Cloud with a soul falls for a human with a predilection for the rain. Upon realizing that Ralmond (said human) would rather be rained on than use an umbrella, the Rain Cloud is smitten. The problem is, Ralmond has a serious girlfriend, Midi. Will Ralmond choose the Rain Cloud, or will he remain faithful to Midi?
Meanwhile, the presentation of Andersen’s new story keeps getting interrupted by what appear to be scenes from the writer’s actual life, scenes based upon letters he sent to his many “admirees.” Andersen unabashedly owns his admiration for all human forms, and yet, is disheartened by his inability to find true love. Perhaps this is why many of his narratives revolve around unrequited love.
The tension between the different worlds depicted in this play is important to the story being told. There are moments, though, when all of the tongue-in-cheek theatrical interplay can become a tad confusing. You are left wondering if the play is committed to taking itself seriously when required, or if it is perhaps a bit too dismissive of its more serious roots.
The ensemble cast is truly fun to watch. Under Gregory Keng Strasser’s direction, the actors maintain a buoyant tempo. Strasser’s pacing for this production is almost impossible to predict, which, given the structure, seems necessary. This element of unpredictability helps elevate the production where otherwise it could fall dangerously flat.
Among the standouts in this performance is Sydney Dionne as Rain Cloud. Her transitions are hugely entertaining. Dionne deftly walks that line between depicting Rain Cloud as an earnest and self-reflecting anthropomorphized cloud versus just a naïve caricature. Nick Martin as Dolan is also one of the more fun elements of this show. At times, his Andersen is a bit over the top, but that feels inherent to the whimsical flamboyance central to Martin’s interpretation of the character. The scene stealer here without question is Arika Thames as Bessie, the cow. Thames seamlessly manages to interweave wise confidante, sneaky interloper, and comic sidekick and you can’t help but love the character in all guises. It is a wonderful performance by Thames on multiple levels.
The set design (Sarah Beth Hall) appears to strive for a cartoonish world that falls somewhere between The Simpsons and Peppa Pig. In conjunction with the many suspended umbrellas throughout the theatre, it certainly makes its point. Add in Hailey LaRoe’s video design and audiences are definitely transported into a fairytale-esque dimension. Alexa Cassandra Duimstra’s costume choices perfectly complement the scenery and the dialogue, further enhancing the fun factor. “Sometimes the Rain, Sometimes the Sea” is a guaranteed whimsical theatrical experience that offers a fresh, new perspective on Hans Christian Andersen and on storytelling in general.
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
“Sometimes the Rain, Sometimes the Sea” runs through April 16, 2023 at Rorschach Theatre at Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street NE, Washington, DC 20002. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here. Masks are still required in performance spaces and theaters.