Scott Rudin, Lloyd Braun
Joey Parnes, Sue Wagner, John Johnson
Fish in the Dark
(Fish in the Dark Website)
Written By and Starring:
Directed by Anna D. Shapiro
Rita Wilson, Rosie Perez, Ben Shenkman,
Lewis J. Stadlen, Jane Houdyshell
Jake Cannavale, Marylouise Burke, Jerry Adler,
Jenn Lyon, Jonny Orsini, Molly Ranson,
Maria Elena Ramirez, Rachel Resheff, Joel Rooks
Jeff Still, Kenneth Tigar, Richard Topol
138 West 48th Street
Scenic Design: Todd Rosenthal
Costume Design: Ann Roth
Lighting Design: Brian MacDevitt
Sound Design: Rob Milburn & Michael Bodeen
Original Music: David Yazbek
Wig Design: Alan D’Angerio
Casting: Caparelliotis Casting
Production Stage Manager: Rolt Smith
Company Manager: Penelope Daulton
Production Management: Aurora Productions
Press Representative: Philip Rinaldi
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 6, 2015
Larry David, in the posture and stance of Popeye’s Olive Oyl, the cartoon character, stars in his own play about a character who’s much like himself. That play, Fish in the Dark, is as one-dimensional as a comic book cartoon, no, more than a cartoon. With a comic book, you can imagine gesture and voice and scene, and the lines and characters have to jump with immediacy and rapid humor. Fish in the Dark is mainly interesting as far as the expanse of the stage scrim, with its giant, adorable goldfish, and the invisible computer that keeps changing dates and names on a death certificate. The scrim opens to a California hospital waiting room, with a replicated elevator, as a family gathers for a father’s probable death.
Two brothers, Norman Drexel (Mr. David) and Arthur Drexel (Ben Shenkman), are wrapped in their own heads, Norman, a salesman, and Arthur, a lawyer. Norman’s wife, Brenda (Rita Wilson), is uncomfortably present, as she’s the nemesis of Norman’s mother, Gloria (Jayne Houdyshell). Norman, divorced, invited his girlfriend of the day, Michelle (Jenn Lyon), as part of their date, to join him. Michelle gets pinched, when she visits the patient. The dying father, Sidney (Jerry Adler), is seen in a brief, last breath scene, as he orders his “son” to take care of Gloria, at their home. Which son, is the unanswered question. Neither wants her, neither really wants anyone, although Arthur has a warm relationship with tween daughter, Jessica (Rachel Resheff), who outdoes Norman in the second act, offstage eulogy, to Norman’s fury.
Norman’s daughter, Natalie (Molly Ranson), wants to communicate in Eliza Doolittle accent, as she’s rehearsing the role for a stint onstage, to the annoyance of her parents. Stopping by the hospital, to say goodbye to her brother, Sidney, is Aunt Rose Kanter (Marylouise Burke) and husband, Harry (Kenneth Tigar), who claims Sidney promised him his Rolex, so he takes it off dying Sidney. Filling out this over-sized cast are Fabiana Melendez (Rosie Perez), Gloria and Sidney’s former housekeeper, her son, Diego (Jake Cannavale), who has a key role late in the play, Doctors Stiles and Meyers (Richard Topol, Joel Rooks), who each take a turn with a gag about tipping hospital doctors, Nurse Ramirez (Maria Elena Ramirez), Jay Leventhal (Jeff Still), a guest at the Shiva, Greg (Jonny Orsini), in a bit part as Natalie’s boyfriend, and, last but not least, Stewie Drexel (Lewis J. Stadlen), Sidney’s boisterous and caustic brother.
Actually, caustic is a Drexel family trait, written into the show with fervor. What makes this two-act play so un-funny, so flat, so flimsy, is the lack of depth of any persona onstage, except – here are the sparkling wits – Jayne Houdyshell, as the grieving Gloria, in bed, riotously dreaming of her youth with young Sidney, in a well written gag – Rosie Perez, as the savvy, sassy Fabiana – Lewis J. Stadlen as Stewie, who’s funny every time he appears – and Jake Cannavale, as the very physical, dynamic Diego.
Full disclosure, I was not a fan or viewer of Mr. David’s “Seinfeld” or “Curb Your Enthusiasm”. I stopped watching TV sitcoms, when they switched live audiences for canned laughter. Broadway theatres have no canned laughter. Actors and playwrights have to earn the laughs. And, the laughs have to be loud enough to be contagious. One laugh is scary. The audience begins to sense staleness and tension. This certainly isn’t the first or last Broadway show where most jokes fall flat. There have been worse, and they closed prematurely. Fortunately, for Mr. David, this show sold record-breaking numbers of tickets prior to opening night, and the show should enjoy a good run. In fact, Mr. David’s fan base was out full force tonight, waiting for his “pret-ty, pret-ty” TV lines, which, for the non-fan, were like he was clapping for himself.
What was really sensational was Todd Rosenthal’s scenic design, with an elevator wall that looks like any we’d see around town and a Shiva table of deli, fruits, and bakery, that would rival any Shiva, on any Jewish family’s table, New York to California. Ann Roth’s costumes suited the characters, from Gloria to Michelle, Norman to Diego. Brian McDevitt’s lighting was requisite to the success of the scrim of the goldfish and the fill-in-the-blanks death certificate. Anna Shapiro, Director, had a very tough client to direct, Mr. Larry David, the playwright and star, and it’s unlikely that Mr. David’s frequent Olive Oyl, postural poses, with exaggerated outstretched arms and gaping mouth, were totally her idea. This is Broadway, the Cort Theatre, not an LA TV studio, and we don’t laugh on cue. If, after this run, Mr. David were to synthesize the play, dropping at least half the characters, even more if using doubles, the show might enjoy a decade of bookings, especially on an intimate stage in the round. .