As Exciting as Actual Ice Fishing: “Nice Fish”

Presented by the American Repertory Theatre
Written by Mark Rylance & Louis Jenkins
Drawn from the works of Louis Jenkins
Direction and compositions by Claire van Kampen

January 17 – February 7, 2016
Loeb Drama Center
Cambridge, MA
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Review by Kitty Drexel

(Cambridge, MANice Fish pairs the poetry of Louis Jenkins and self-aware post post-modern theatre on the frozen waters of a Minnesota lake. It is a small, white cast with one woman (Kayli Carter taking one for the team) about the humdrum comings and goings of ice fishers and their community. We are invited to experience the quiet contemplations of Erik (Jim Lichtscheidl) and Ron (Mark Rylance) on their technology-assisted jaunt into the wilderness. It’s a story of Man versus Nature versus Man’s Nature. In the end, the winner is always Nature.  

Nice Fish is presented to us as vignettes, like poems within a collection. After each scene of varying length and dramatic weight, the lights on stage blackout and then come back up to introduce the adjacent scene. It would be a new poem if one were reading a book. In Nice Fish these are moments within a day of fishing. The metaphor works visually but stunts the momentum of the play. What we see are actors working very hard on a mostly barren set only to be upstaged by the occasional sight gag. It makes for a slow moving plot. 

For all of the work the actors are doing on stage (And they are working hard. At moments, they are very funny but the incidental humor doesn’t sustain the production as a whole.), the show doesn’t work. It doesn’t work as a poetry reading because the audience is too far removed from the actors to experience its emotional intimacies. There is not enough conflict within the production for it to be successful theatre. Despite the efforts of the actors, this is the kind of play that would work better in a performed reading or as the original poetry.

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