Thursday, March 1, 2018

Nice Fish by Mark Rylance & Louis Jenkins


By Joe Straw

I never thought fish were nice
Their incongruity mortared
on their oblique narrow being

They breathe through a superior operculum
And navigate the lake with a spiny dorsal
beyond the anal fin down to their overly proficient tail

But, sinisterly greedy they are
To take, or eat the bait
moments before hooked in perpetual agony

Caught, nice fish don’t
struggle, back and forth,
to get back to the water’s edge

But, do they deserve this murderous absurdity?
From one so obsequious

Off the hook and into
The bucket?
Or, back in the pond?

It must be said
I never thought fish were nice
But twice said neither am I. - Narrator

There is a lot to like about Nice Fish by Mark Rylance and Louis Jenkins and directed by Rob Brownstein and Anita Khanzadian, and presented by the interact theatre company, now playing at the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles through March 25, 2018.

The crew was marvelously fantastic with all that was going on, on stage, here, there, everywhere, snow, wind, odd puppetry, making the most of the place, a frozen lake in Northern Minnesota, late winter, or early spring, on the last day of ice-fishing season.  

This production requires one to prepare for something a little different from other plays.  The words or dialogue, meaning the prose poems, are a little offsetting in the traditional ways that one views dramatic or comedic theatre of objectives, conflict, and character resolution.

This play is likely to find a different light and differ each night, depending on the moments and audience participation, no matter how the directors Brownstein and Khanzadian have structured it.

Time has little relevance on this lake, day can be night, night can be day, but time passes in what could be thought of anywhere from an extended weekend or even months.  In the flash of winter lighting, moments pass quickly and possibly weeks fly by. The time spent on the ice is a humanistic endeavor that outweighs the visual countenance of time.  

And yet, all of this is absorbed, and happening, dancing in your imagination.

Erik (Don Fischer) is an “ice-fishing enthusiast”. He’s married but doesn’t talk about his wife too much especially when he is fishing.  He brings his college friend, Ron (Barry Heins), who is single and knows fiddly-squat about fishing.

Ron is over bundled so as to not to get cold. He brings a hand-held ice auger but he has no luck getting through the ice. Erik, with his gas-powered ice auger, plows through the ice like it’s nothing, and smiles while he’s doing it.

Erik, then settles on a plastic bucket near the hole in the ice, plows through a lot of fish philosophy hoping Ron understands the complexities of fishing on ice.  Ron can only nod his head, drink his Bud, and sit in his cushy chair.

Fishing not only gives one time to contemplate, sharing ideas of the mundane, but it is also discovering the mysteries of the earth through the art of life.

I can’t give too much away, because that would be giving too much away.  This is a delightful production with a lot of unusual and madcap activities happening throughout the theatrical night and wonderfully directed by Brownstein and Khanzadian.  Even if you don’t get everything, the night of portentous prose poems produces visuals you only dream of in a good night’s sleep.  

Evan Bartoletti, Scenic Design, gives us a portion of a frozen lake somewhere in northern Minnesota, where brightly painted fishing huts dot the icy landscape, and bare trees line the lake bed. It is both beautiful and detailed magnificently.

The sound by Chip Botcik of cracking ice, wind, and monster trucks are very pleasurable, the sound of physics and humanity all rolled into one.

Don Fischer is pleasant as Erik.  There’s more to be had with this character as an enthusiastic fisherman.  We get that he is a serious fisherman, little tidbits of a non-querulous nature, but we never see the enjoyment of learning new things.  For example, when another fisherman says he needs to talk to the lure, stuff like that should drive him ecstatic  – learning new things.  There is a reason he brought his friend this day and maybe that reason is too internal but it is a secret that needs to be express sometime during the course of the play.

Barry Heins has a very good look as Ron and is perfectly suited for the role.  For some ungodly reason, I didn’t see either the phone or the shades fall into the ice hole; that needs work so to focus our attention in his direction.  More is needed to show that he really really enjoyed the sauna. Those are really small things for an overall delightful performance.

Tamika Simpkins is excellent as the man-hating, go by the rules DNR Officer.  One pictures her as having a bible in one hand and a rules book in the other. The last day of the season and she is all over the men who are perceived to be fishing. And she won’t let go until she gets her quota for the day and back home to her wife, “that’s right I said, wife.”

Kristen Egermeier plays Flo.  Flo is a character type that manages to show up in the most peculiar places dressed in atypical garb.  For example, she is a type of an unexpected guest showing up at a beach house, or Burning Man, or Joshua Tree trying to make friends.  Flo appears out of nowhere to express her atypical lifestyle. She holds a book “Moby Dick” navigating her way, making friends where there were no friends moments ago.  She seems to have made a love connection but, does it go far enough? The stunning actress is below holding onto the palm tree and her name is spelled Kristen despite what the photograph says.

Rick Friesen is Wayne, grandfather to Flo.  He carries the spear fishing implement, something he’s not suppose to have.  He also carries the spirit of the Ojibwa as a constant companion along with the chi of the fish. Wayne imparts his wisdom to those who have a receptive ear. His relationship to his granddaughter could be improved in a myriad of ways that progress with the through line. (Oh, a perceived through line.)

Mark Rylance and Louis Jenkins, the playwrights, take us on a very interesting trip.  It’s hard to tell where one starts and the other begins but, either way, the descriptive visuals takes the viewer on a very pleasurable trip.

Keaton Shapiro does a very fine job as a producer.

Sam KS and Michael Skloff created the original music.

Carolyn Mazuca’s costume design was perfect for this show.

Cate Caplin was the choreographer.

Stevie Anne Nemazee was responsible for the puppet design and the puppets were magnificent and oddly beautiful and unique in their own special way.

Jonathan Martin Berry was responsible for the guitar.  Gina S. De Luca was the stage manager.  

The publicity was by Ken Werther Publicity.


Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles
1238 W. 1st Street
Los Angeles, CA  90026 

Run! Run! And take an avid fisherman with you!

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