An intriguing, ominous ‘Wind and Rain’ 

The traditional Irish ballad “The Wind and Rain” — in which a jealous brunette drowns her blond sister for love of the miller’s son (“He was fonder of the fairer one”) — clearly lends itself to dramatic treatment, with its endless, haunting refrain, “Oh, the dreadful wind and rain.”

Now, Seattle-based writer-director Claytie Mason (whose “The Secret Ruths of Island House” was an engrossing contribution to the San Francisco Fringe Festival a few years ago) and her small, mostly female ensemble bring us their own, quasi-surreal, music- and movement-saturated take on the spooky tale. The show, which kicked off this year’s DivaFest celebrating works by women, is onstage through the end of the month at Exit Theatre. 

Wisely, there’s no attempt to completely clarify the story; to do so would be to deprive it of its inherent mystery. (Consider these lyrics: “Along the road came a fiddler fair ... and found her bones just a-lying there ... He made a fiddle peg of her long finger bone ... And strung his fiddle bow with her long pretty hair.”)

Instead, in Mason’s modernized version, two pony-tailed, working-class sisters in a dead-end mill town hang out by the river and fantasize about traveling the world and opening a motel.

Dark-haired, dominant sister Finn (a believably tough, tomboyish Brynna Jourden) is the adventurous one; blond Sarah (Jenna Bean Veatch, unfortunately playing a mannered cliché of a sweet, innocent young girl) is the “wussy sister,” a good-natured, dreamy follower in love with love — and with the miller’s son.

The roving fiddler, a female in this version, appears early on, and — rather confusingly — settles down, initially anyway, in a little office at stage left.

She’s a silent, elusive, otherworldly figure who insinuates herself into the sisters’ story in unexpected ways, underscoring and, at times, leading the action.

As played by tall, calm concert violinist Rebecca Jackson (who also composed the gorgeous original music), she is riveting. As the seasons roll by and summer turns to winter, the atmosphere becomes increasingly ominous.

Mason’s story, unfurling at a leisurely pace, follows the sisters’ separate dreams and inevitable, deadly clash. Their musing dialogue is woven throughout with fraught silences, and with exquisite, dancerly expressions of rage, fear, dread, exhilaration, passion and, in one breathtaking scene, speechless wonder, as Sarah finally finds herself underwater in the untrustworthy river (set design by Molly Millar).

Exactly why one sister murders the other is never spelled out as precisely here as in the ballad, but the short, emotionally dense play casts a hypnotic spell.

THEATER REVIEW
The Wind and Rain

Where:
Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy St., San Francisco
When: 8:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; closes May 1
Tickets: $15 to $25
Contact: (415) 673-3847, www.theexit.org

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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