Though Ariel Leaf’s one-woman Minnesota Fringe Festival show is titled A Mermaid in Narnia (on LSD), Leaf’s monologue isn’t much concerned with the mythical kingdom of Aslan. Instead, it’s largely set in the all-too-real kingdom of Minneapolis—specifically the West Bank circa the 1990s, when Leaf took classes at the U and worked at the Hard Times, “where I actually wasn’t very popular, despite working there for 12 years. I wasn’t drunk enough, I wasn’t punk enough, and I certainly didn’t fuck enough.”
Leaf, who was a teenager in those years, grew up fast: before she was in her mid-teens, she’d already been to court in the wake of an abusive relationship with a man several years her senior, and then, by her late teens, she was in an unhappy marriage to another man.
A Mermaid in Narnia feels like just the tip of the iceberg regarding Leaf’s experiences, and fortunately, she doesn’t overreach: she contents herself with telling just a few stories about a couple of memorable non-romantic (or at least non-sexual) relationships, and exploring her relationship with drugs. The latter seems to have been surprisingly positive, in part—Leaf reveals—due to a junkie who took her under his wing and made sure no one offered the impressionable young woman any of the hard stuff.
The show climaxes with the story of how Leaf became involved with theater, through a production of Hair at the U. The director—Chanhassen Dinner Theatres’ Michael Brindisi—enlisted Leaf in part because he hoped she could educate her “privileged” peers about communal life as she’d experienced at the Hard Times. We don’t find out exactly how that went, but I wonder.
It’s an amusing story, and it concludes this sometimes tough tale on a high note. A Mermaid in Narnia is easy to recommend for fans of storytelling, and for those interested in the kind of local history that you don’t learn in school.