Local Arts Reviews

Fish: Baggage Claim

Blue Theatre,

Through November 18

Running time: 1 hr, 30 min

Here's an itchy mingling of issues and angst played out upon an exquisitely lighted set in the Blue Theatre. Here's Cyndi Williams' new play, Fish: an evocation of people and situations like the psychic furniture of a darker David Lynch film, directed by Williams for her Aunt Lulu Plays company.

Young Charlie's a small-time hustler, pissing off the bartenders in an expanding series of liquor joints and nightclubs. He's still half-submerged in his childhood, haunted and strangely nurtured by memories of his abusive, sexually freaky, three-bricks-shy-of-a-load mama. Laura's a middle-aged and self-professed stereotype whose hard-won regimen of self-improvement shatters when she drives her car head-on into calamity. Williams brings these characters and all their emotional baggage together in a divey little bar, and sure enough, her American Tourister gets all tangled up with his Samsonite. To complicate things, Charlie's mama True and Laura's victim Missi are as present as the alcohol and no less intoxicating to our dysfunctional couple.

Laura is driven by guilt and deliberately looking to wreck her own vehicle of flesh; Charlie is willing to assist her for monetary payback -- at least it'll keep him in the lipstick he frequently applies as his mama taught him. Yes, it's all pretty twisted -- Mr. Lynch was not mentioned carelessly above -- and the story is relayed in a staggered chain of scenelets, shifting from the characters' present to their past, from their external reality to their internal mindscapes, from different bars and repeatedly back to the same haunted-by-the-fingers-of-a-dead-man (!) convenience store.

Katherine Catmull delivers a solid performance as Laura, adding some depth to this woman whom the Fates have hollowed out; Joey Hood's Charlie seems a bit too calm and easy, particularly at the beginning -- which thwarts the sense of the hustler's transition to a sort of eerie well-being at the story's close. Melissa Livingston and Margaret Ann Hoard portray the auto victim and the schizy mama, respectively, and do an okay job, although that mama seems vastly overplayed. Lara Toner's in the action, too, deftly summing up a disparate and familiar trio of kwik-mart clerks. But I wonder what it's a reflection of that the show is almost stolen by Douglas Taylor as a series of bartenders: regular Joe Ginmill, trippy Disco Phag, prowlish Leatherman.

A tapestry of eclectic yet scene-appropriate songs, woven by Robert S. Fisher, amplifies the action or inaction throughout the play; and the distinct sound of wrists breaking continues to make my memory cringe, thank-you-very-much. Marco Noyola's set provides a wonderful example of how well the Blue Theatre can be used, and Chris Meister's lighting couldn't have been more definitely matched to the structural excellence. Those are just the sort of rational, cohesive forces you need when you're unloading characters' twisted feelings everywhere and the center has a less-certain grasp. Just the sort of guidance to ease the strange little story to its end -- a thematically satisfying and not overly expected end. This is precisely the way people feel sometimes; this is, sometimes, the very thing that happens. You want to like this Fish; first you have to like something that'll make your own baggage itch a bit; thankfully, Williams and company also provide a few good scratches.

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Fish, Cyndi Williams, Aunt Lulu Plays, Katherine Catmull, Joey Hood, Melissa Livingston, Margaret Ann Hoard, Lara Toner, Douglas Taylor, Robert S. Fisher, Marco Noyola, Chris Meister

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