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A CurtainUp Review
Directed intelligently by Claire Van Kampen (Rylance's wife), this American Repertory Theater production is making its New York premiere at St. Ann's Warehouse in an extended run through late March.
Here's the premise: Two ice fishermen, Ron and Erik, who are hoping to catch a fish on the last day of the ice fishing season, spend a day and night on a frozen Minnesota lake. While waiting for a tug on their lines, the two men meditate on their past and present lives, turn philosophical, and meet a number of eccentric folk trekking across the ice-encrusted lake.
Jenkins' prose poems are spliced and reshaped into dialogue. And when spoken, in turn, by Ron, Erik, the DNR Man, Flo, and Wayne, the words wonderfully morph into conversation pieces. Indeed Jenkins' language, with its twangy Midwest idiom, translates naturally to the stage and never sounds artificial.
Although Jenkins contributes the poetic cornerstone for Nice Fish, Rylance is the real draw here. He makes his klutzy Ron, who's going through a mid-life crisis, fascinating to watch. When Ron, loses his cell phone and sunglasses in the opening scene, the mishap overtly serves to point up the dangers of ice fishing, it also subtly reveals the actor's comic genius. Rylance also uses much physical comedy, body language, and facial expressions to convey the personality of his outdoorsman. And without overplaying his part, he steals every scene by his sheer virtuosity.
No quibbles over the rest of the cast. Jim Lichtscheidl, as Erik, brings a down-to-earth quality to his fisherman. Bob Davis, as the Department of Natural Resources official, is all about rules and regulations and the unyielding enforcement of each. Rounding out the cast is the off-beat Kayli Carter as Flo, the only female in this testosterone-heavy play, and Raye Birk (who replaced Louis Jenkins for the New York production) as her grandfather Wayne.
The designers mingle realism and surrealism to fine effect. Todd Rosenthal's frozen tundra of a set aptly complements the Midwest setting. He has created an icy wasteland out of a white silken sheet stretched tautly across a slightly raked stage, complete with tiny poplar trees, a shelter station, and a neon-lit palm tree in the background. Japhy Weideman's milk-white lighting cooly drenches the stage, and his split-second blackouts smoothly bridge one scene to the next in this jagged jig-saw puzzle of a play. Ilona Somogyi's costumes are a motley mix of outdoor and indoor clothing: parkas, boots, a mad bomber's hat, a fishing cap, a bright green dress and even an old-fashioned negligee (don't ask).
Ultimately , this play has its own weird logic born of Midwest sensibilities and Norse mythology.
If you go, be sure to read a program note in which Jenkins traces the uncanny beginning and gradual evolution of Nice Fish: How in 2008 he learned from a friend that Rylance had used one of his prose poems for his Best Actor Tony Award speech and subsequently emailed Rylance. . .how Rylance responded and soon pitched the idea of using Jenkins' prose poems as a text for a theater piece. . . . and how five years later, their brainchild Nice Fish bobbed to the surface--and landed on the boards at the Guthrie Theater.. . now the fanciful riff on life's meaning is at st. Ann's with Rylance freshly star-dusted with his Oscar Award. His many fans won't want to miss it.