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Food For Fish

a Regional premiere
CATEGORY : COMEDY DRAMA
by Adam Szymkowicz

COMPANY : Essential Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Actor's Express [WEBSITE]
ID# 3402

SHOWING : July 02, 2009 - August 05, 2009

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

FOOD FOR FISH by Adam Szymkowicz. Regional Premiere.
A comedy about longing that explores the interesting comical shifts in our perspectives of what men and women are supposed to be. “Fabulously weird and weirdly fabulous.” – New York Times

Check the website for days and times.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Peter Hardy
Technical Director Harley Gould
Set Designer Robert Hadaway
Lighting Designer Trish Harris
Costume Designer Jane Kroessig
Props Designer Kathy Manning
Stage Manager Alex Riviere
Sasha, etc. Kelly Criss
Sylvia, Arthur Kate Graham
Alice Eve Krueger
Bobbie Brent Rose
Barbara, James Charles Swint
Dexter Sarah Falkenburg Wallace
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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Malnourishment
by Dedalus
Thursday, August 13, 2009
3.0
“What happens to dreams after you wake up?” At one point in Adam Szymkowicz’ “Food for Fish,” a young writer says this with all the gravitas and self-importance of the Dalai Lama pondering the wisdom of the ages. Yet, at its root, this is a fairly meaningless and pretentious question. Much like most of what passes for “New Age” wisdom these days. And, unfortunately, much like most of the play in which it’s said.

Bobbie is a young semi-suicidal writer, working on a novel that no one will read (he tosses the completed pages into the Hudson River). In his spare time, he trolls the streets of Manhattan, kissing unsuspecting women. One sign of the wrong-headedness of this script is that Mr. Szymkowicz apparently considers this a whimsical idiosyncrasy, rather than the act of sexual assault it truly is.

The book Bobbie is writing is a meandering tale of three Manhattan sisters, longing for escape to New Jersey. Their gravedigger father died a year ago, and they still have his encoffined body in the living room. The oldest sister is played by a man, her husband is played by a woman. They resemble a real family that has become part of the writer’s life, and the moments where reality and fiction overlap and diverge are the crux of the play.

This, in and of itself, is a wonderful idea. The first act is set up as a montage of scenes depicting events we’re not sure are fiction or “reality.” Bobbie falls in love with the youngest sister (“Sylvia”), who is an investigative reporter looking into the “kissing bandit” spree that has struck Manhattan. Since Bobbie and Sylvia take turns directly narrating the play, we’re not sure we’re getting different versions of what’s really happening, Sylvia’s point of view as filtered through Bobbie’s narration, or total fiction.

Again, this was a meta-narrative conceit I really enjoyed.

Where the play lost me was when the second act took on a more realistic air, when we saw events that couldn’t possibly have come from Bobbie or Sylvia’s experience or imagination. It was at this late stage that I began to realize that the various theatrical conceits (cross-gender, cross-racial casting, bizarre character quirks, etc etc etc) hid a basically empty core, that the play really had nothing new to say about human nature or relationships, that the plot elements resolved themselves in a painfully ordinary, painfully predictable fashion. We’re basically being told that it doesn’t matter if a particular sequence was fiction or non-fiction, because the universe of the imagination makes no distinction between the two. We’re basically being told that dreams have as much reality as waking life, and it actually matters what happens to them after we wake.

Now this is an idea, a conceit, I not only reject, but also find a little obnoxious, even subversive (in a bad way). Sort of like the idea that there is no objective reality, only what our minds make of it. Sort of like the mindset that an act of sexual assault is only a character quirk, or the idea that an obsession with a father’s corpse is only an expression of emotional need. Sort of like the offensively patronizing joke that three sisters sighing for New Jersey can carry as much leitmotif weight as three other literary sisters longing for Moscow (after all, how difficult can it be for these people to jump into a subway for a day-trip to Newark?). Sort of like the thin and pointless tactic of cross-casting genders merely to make a lame joke about “gender roles” without developing the implications of those roles beyond a few stereotypes and caricatures and without making any thematic point about those roles and stereotypes.

Considering the level of on-stage talent, both from a cast perspective and a design perspective, the thematic (and narrative) failures of this piece are especially disappointing. Brent Nicholas Rose gives us a pleasantly unpleasant Bobbie, believably giving him the charm required to make him attractive to Sylvia, believably hinting at the dark past that drives his more depressive-compulsive habits. Kate Graham is an attractive and intelligent Sylvia, keeping us guessing as to her true motives, her true feelings, surprising us with sudden hurts and insights. Their unfolding relationship is one of the few pleasures to be had from watching this story unfold, a least until the playwright’s contrivances get between them and their first kiss.

I do have to (somewhat shamefully) confess that it took me a few scenes to catch on to the cross-gender casting. Yes, I’d read the program and knew it was happening, but conveniently forgot which characters it involved. Sarah Falkenburg Wallace gives a marvelous performance as Dexter, a cubicle drone confused by sexual politics and the emotional whirlpool his life is swirling through. And, as his wife Barbara, Charles Swint creates a real person and not a drag parody of a person. Eve Krueger gives second sister Alice a drive and charm that belies the silly contrivances written into her character. Her obsession with her brother-in-law is credible, her disappointment with the men she dates palpable. And Kelly Criss does some marvelous yeoman work in several characters, both male and female. I especially liked her (his?) turn as a crotch-scratching, beer-swigging friend of Dexter’s.

The set is a Manhattan streetscape cutting through Bobbie’s elevated cramped work/living space and the sisters’ more elegant digs, complete with coffin. A silhouetted city-scape along the back nicely hints at a fence that should suggest a barrier between Manhattan and New Jersey (but isn’t really allowed to do so). The actors are well-directed (by Peter Hardy) with an eye toward fluid transitions and ambiguous connections that support the good ideas the script’s first act promised.

“Food for Fish” is both an allegorical and a literal reference to words and dreams and more physical sustenance tossed into the Hudson River. Based on the excerpts from Bobbie’s book we’re given, based on the hollowness beneath the contrived eccentricities that litter the surface of this play, I can only assume this food is filled with empty calories, and will offer little nourishment to the fish or to the hapless playgoer.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)



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