nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
August 12, 2007
A playwright should like all her characters. Only then can the audience empathize with the nastiest of roles. In Fish, Cyndi Williams takes the most damaged corners of her characters and magnifies them, leaving the rest of us with very little to relate to. What a shame, because the premise is an interesting one, as is the structure.
In the play, Laura is driving along listening to music and in the split second it takes to change the station, kills Missi, a stoned college student who steps in front of her car without looking. Missi, who had her whole life planned, haunts Laura, who cannot live with what she has done and repeatedly pays an attractive young man, Charlie, to physically harm her as a punishment.
A good deal of the play is given over to Charlie's damaged childhood and the nasty variation of the game "Fish" that his mother has taught him. In their game, his mother wiggles her hands like a fish, begging Charlie not to look, knowing that he will, and when he does, she slugs him. Charlie teaches this game to Laura. The metaphor of paying attention to what's before you is woven throughout and works nicely, providing a thread of continuity among the characters. The theme of fate, raised periodically, is less fully developed and a bit of a reach.
Structurally, the three characters present their personas individually and their stories gradually come together, but without dramatic moment or an event that feels like a turning point. The most engaging parts are the heartbreaking back story of Charlie, played by Matt Munroe, and his mother, True, interpreted in a larger-than-life way by Theresa Gambacorta, but unfortunately these parts add up to little more than exposition. While the play clocks in at about one hour, it takes way too long to find out who these characters are and why they bother with one another. By that time, I didn't care. Rich Johnson could have facilitated this by directing Laura as a more sympathetic character before the accident, one with whom the audience could identify.
If your audience doesn't care about your characters, they are not going to care about your play. I know that's not what Williams intended. Some strong editing up front will help considerably.