Friday, July 21, 2006

Food For Fish

On Wednesday night, I saw Adam Szymkowicz's latest play, Food For Fish, playing at the Kraine Theater in New York. It is a very funny, bizarre and captivating show that's loosely based on Chekov's Three Sisters. Like his play, Nerve, about two endearing psychopaths on a first date, Food For Fish is a fine showcase for Mr. Szymkowicz's gifts as a playwright that should be seen before it goes up into the Great Production in the Sky.

The play Food For Fish is about...

Okay, hold on. It's going to take some time and effort to finish that sentence. Let me try my best.

The play Food For Fish is about three sisters living on Manhattan's Upper East Side hoping to move to New Jersey, their dead father decomposing at a rapid pace in their apartment, the oldest sister's husband facing a midlife crisis and an author who throws pages of his manuscript into the Hudson River and kisses random women on the street.

Are you with me so far?

Of the three sisters, the oldest, Barbara (played by Luis Moreno, a dude), serves as "man of the house." She is an agoraphobe and control freak that disapproves of the youngest sister ever leaving the house and refuses to bury their dead father (who lies in a coffin in the living room throughout the bulk of the play), despite the neighbors' complaints about the smell.

The middle sister, Alice (Ana Perea), is a scientist trying to isolate the gene in mice that causes them to love in the hope that she can remove it from people. She goes on many dates, none of which are fun for her. Her potential suitors sign their names on the lab's chalkboard to schedule a date and at the dates she requests DNA and blood samples to see if a second date is in the future.

The youngest sister, Sylvia (Anna Hopkins), is an aspiring journalist who is writing an article about lipstick, but is more interested in writing about a mysterious young man roaming Manhattan, kissing strangers.

The serial kisser is Bobbie (Orion Taraban), who is not only the play's Georgie Porgie but also a writer (specifically, the writer of the story we're watching) and narrator of the show. Cut off from the world and convinced of his genius, he writes the story of the three sisters and gets increasingly frustrated when Sylvia (she being, after all, a writer) decides to rewrite her own dialogue.

(Having met Adam a few weeks ago, I noticed numerous parallels between the character of the writer - and Mr. Taraban's portrayal - to Adam himself. He may deny that the writer in the show is his fictional alter ego, but that may be like me denying that Nervous Boy in my play is mine.)

The final main character is Dexter (Katie Honaker, a chick), Barbara's husband, who is depressed with how his life has gone. Unsure of his feelings towards Barbara and hating his job (that seems to keep demoting him without rhyme or reason every few weeks), his only relaxation is masturbating in the company bathroom to murder revenge fantasies about his new bosses.

(Another actress in the show, Caroline Tamas, plays several other roles throughout, both male and female. Some of the other actors also play other roles of either gender.)

I hope I'm not making it sound incoherent or frivolous. It isn't. The play is about longing, regret and being held back. It's one of the funniest plays I've seen this year about truly sad people.

I was hooked.

There was one point in the first act (I can't exactly remember when) where I had no idea where the show was going, but didn't care. Wherever it was going, I was interested.

What's impressive about Mr. Szymkowicz's show is that, as silly things get (and I realize that my description of Food For Fish makes it sound very silly indeed), it never feels forced or overwhelming. The laughs come naturally for the audience, and the absurdity ends up making its own internal logic. The most obvious example being the gender-reversed roles of Barbara and Dexter: after a few minutes of watching, you simply "buy" Barbara being played by a dude and Dexter being played by a chick. My guess is that Mr. Szymkowicz (unless this is the choice of director Alexis Poledouris) is showing how the gender roles in the modern-day world have been reversed (i.e., Dexter is literally emasculated and Barbara is a mannish controller). Mr. Moreno doesn't try to use a falsetto voice when playing Barbara, nor does Ms. Honaker try to adopt a faux baritone when playing Dexter.

It just works.

In her recent article about him and his work in The Brooklyn Rail, Sheila Callaghan described Adam Szymkowicz's plays dealing "a lot with whimsy and heartbreak," which sounds about right. "Whimsical" and "heartbreaking" would be two words that leap to mind when thinking about this play and Nerve.

It is really nice and, frankly, really rare to see a New York-based playwright under 30 have his own "voice." After seeing both Nerve and Food For Fish (as well as reading a few of his shorter works, many of which are available on his Web site), I think it's safe to say that Adam Szymkowicz truly has his own distinct voice for the stage.

Of course, because the guy is slightly younger than me I hate him.

Despite this, I do recommend you all go see Food For Fish at the Kraine on 85 East 4th Street (between 2nd & 3rd avenues) before it closes Saturday, July 29.

Donning a dress,

James "Sally" Comtois


Blogger Adam Szymkowicz said...

wow. thanks! That was like a whole article. damn. Thanks a lot!

4:59 PM  
Blogger Bob Jude said...

James, thanks for the cool review.

In all the raves about F4F, few mention the tiny, struggling company that produced it. Sanctuary: Playwrights Theatre is a coalition of playwrights that brings great unheard new playwrights to audiences. We're living on a shoestring and perhaps the attention this play is getting could garner us more support. We are premiering an entire season of new works by playwrights in our coalition, including also-very-cool Crystal Skillman's Vigil, a new Blues Opera, and other works. All on practically no money but with good PVs and lots of heart.

We're at Please come check us out.

Bob Jude Ferrante
Managing Director & a playwright
Sanctuary: Playwrights Theatre

7:14 AM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

Sure thing, Bob. For a second, I didn't know what you were talking about, since I could have sworn that I had mentioned the production company that staged it. Sure enough, I reread what I had written and check my notes and...yup. You're right. I hadn't. I had written it in both my notes and my personal list of all the plays I've seen this year (I cite the venue, playwright and company), hence me having the memory of writing Sanctuary: Playwrights Theatre but being unable to find it on this page.

11:22 AM  

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