Theatre Elision's latest musical only needs two actors to make a big impact.
Deidre Cochran and Christine Wade in "The Islander." Photo by Jessica Holleque.
Theatre Elision's "The Islander"—one of the Twin Cities' first indoor theater performances since COVID—starts off by hitting the show's best features. The two actors launch right into a mesmerizing folk song, using a looper to turn their voices into a haunting choir above snaps and claps. They circle each other, two worlds brushing up against each other underneath blue lighting and suspended fish nets, and behind them, a projected backdrop changes from aerial cliffs to waves and whales to thunder.
And so the musical begins.
The show, which runs through July 31, takes place on a remote Scottish isle that's facing an ultimatum vote: If they all decide to leave, the mainland will provide them all with housing. If they stay, they'll be in the place they love, but they will continue to lack resources like a doctor, a school system, and a steady stream of income. This tension surges and retreats like the tide as we follow Eilidh (pronounced Aylee), a girl who stumbles onto her own mythical coming-of-age when she finds a beached whale.
Before coming to Theatre Elision, "The Islander" was runner up for the Primary Times Children's Choice Award, was nominated for Off West End's new musical and musical director accolades, and claimed the title of Musical Theatre Review's best new musical at Edinburgh Fringe 2019. (If you need help building some hype, consider that "Six" was on the short list for the same award back in 2017.) After experiencing how actors Christine Wade and Deidre Cochran (who rotates the second role with Emily Dussault) effortlessly built a world together on a near-empty stage, I can see why.
Wade and Cochran shifted and shed the village characters with the ease of selkies, changing body language and voices throughout the songs and dialogue. Wade's portrayal of Eilidh's innocence and frustrations rang as clear as her voice, and Cochran's role as Eilidh's grandma was felt in a creaky back, warm love, and a spunky sense of humor. The songs by Finn Anderson are in turn mesmerizing and full of small-town bustle, and while the style shift can sometimes jolt you out of a scene, the actors and set bring you back to shore.
I was first lured into the musical with the words "finfolk," but Theatre Elision's production wasn't about the magic, really. It was about the small moments that can lead to big ones down the road. It was a girl—and a town—on the cusp of a new chapter, whether it meant walking toward the unknown or embracing everything that made them. In the end, "The Islander" is just like one of its songs: It thrums with a quiet, wondrous energy and lingers long past the last word is spoken.