A refrigerator, a sofa and other home furnishings hang high on a wall in “The Mermaid Hour: ReMixed” at Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis. The suspended set pieces give the playing space a wonderland feel — a magical concept flowing from the plot of this tender chamber musical about a transgender girl’s coming of age.
With book and lyrics by David Valdes Greenwood and music by Twin Cities composer Eric Mayson, “Mermaid” revolves around Vi (Azoralla Arroyo Caballero), a biracial 12-year-old wrestling with age-appropriate questions about feelings and identity.
Vi is a curious youngster who makes videos to share on social media — and doesn’t fully appreciate the real-world consequences of broadcasting things she should share only with friends. She just wants to be accepted for who she is, both by her parents, who struggle for answers to her questions, and her friend Jacob (Meng Xiong), who recently moved to town from New York with his mom (Sheena Janson).
Vi’s mother, Pilar (Thallis Santesteban), works in health care and is the more understanding parent at the outset. Vi’s gruffly sardonic father, Bird (Michael Hanna), works two jobs in retail, so family time involves Chinese takeout and vegging in front of the tube.
“Mermaid” also has a mysterious “merperson” (Catherine Charles Hammond), who guides Vi from afar.
Part of a wave of trans artists onstage in the Twin Cities this month, this play is being debuted by four companies around the nation as part of a “rolling world premiere.” But Mixed Blood’s production is the only one to employ songs (hence the title “ReMixed”).
A nimble trio, led by Mayson, provides musical accompaniment for this story. There’s some heartfelt singing in this two-act musical. And Mayson’s compositions tug at emotions, even if some of Greenwood’s lyrics are clichéd. (Unsolicited advice to writers everywhere: There are only so many rhymes with “heart.”)
Director Leah Anderson employs a near-thrust stage, with action in other parts of the house that helps create an immersive feel.
Despite the uneven talents of the cast, performers periodically strike the right chords. Caballero captures Vi’s angst and charm, giving us a window into a young person’s determination and passions. The character vacillates between childlike innocence and strong-willed adulthood.
Santesteban and Hanna make the parents mostly understanding and sympathetic, although the father’s sarcasm is off-putting at first. Xiong’s Jacob is direct but sympathetic.
For a show that checks a number of diversity boxes, “Mermaid” does not feel forced or contrived. On the contrary, it’s heartening to see diverse characters onstage wrestling with issues faced increasingly by families today.
If children are the gateway to a new world of knowledge for parents, Vi offers an entry point for anyone wishing to raise kids with compassion and understanding.