BY ARAM KOUYOUMDJIAN
Upon winning his first Tony Award, actor Mark Rylance gave a surreally funny acceptance speech that began, “When you’re in town, wearing some kind of uniform is helpful.” Turned out he was reciting a prose poem by Louis Jenkins – something he did again after his second Tony win. Rylance has since adapted Jenkins’ humorous, plainspoken poems into a full-length theater piece entitled “Nice Fish,” now having its West Coast premiere (through March 25) in an Interact Theatre Company production directed by Rob Brownstein and Anita Khanzadian.
“Nice Fish” is constructed of short, loosely-woven scenes – one of them wordless – that unfold while two friends are fishing on a frozen Minnesota lake. They are joined by a handful of other characters, including a father and daughter duo (she is, ironically enough, named Flo), a fishing officer, and the occasional puppet.
Staged on a spacious set with a vast array of imaginative props, “Nice Fish” is an amusing and thoughtful (though sometimes ponderous) exploration of friendship, loneliness, the passage of time, love, regret, allergies, baloney sandwiches, and death. Devoid of any particular plot or tension, the existentialist script ultimately runs a bit too long; however, its final exchange between the two leads, written in the style of an elderly couple commenting on life – as if a movie they’d just seen – is so heartachingly beautiful that it not only justifies the play’s length but (nearly) excuses the freezing conditions in the theater.
Khanzadian and Brownstein ably lead their cast through the play’s whimsicality. While a few of the numerous scene transitions feel clunky, the directors well capture the text’s myriad comic absurdities, striking a smart balance between zaniness and profundity. It is this deft handling of a delicate script that ultimately makes “Nice Fish” a rather tasty treat.
Aram Kouyoumdjian is the winner of Elly Awards for both playwriting (“The Farewells”) and directing (“Three Hotels”). His next production, “William Saroyan’s Theater of Diaspora: The Unpublished Plays in Performance,” is slated to have its world premiere this fall.