nytheatre.com review by Theresa Buchheister
August 9, 2013
An aspect of 29th Street Rep's Pilot Fish that garners knowing chuckles from the audience is striving artists describing ideas as blank-slash-blank-slash-blank. As a nod to that effort towards reductive, verbal collage description, I assert that Pilot Fish is Forensics Comedic Interp/a line of the good stuff/theatre of TV.
Which is to say: watch it and have fun! I am not sure why it exists.
You will laugh! But possibly feel bad for it.
Bring a friend! Leave with a stranger.
A mingled response.
Pilot Fish is a rather long, though quickly moving vignette-creates-narrative theatre production about pilot season, actors/producers/creators, intellectual property, and the ups and downs of a strange little industry. It follows a divorced writer pushing a pilot forward with ghosts from his past and new blood mixed together in a complicated romp through the wilds of pilot season.
Though it is as long as two TV dramas, it doesn't feel that way, because all of the scenes, monologues, and transitions are quick and balanced. None goes on too long and all pack their own wallop. This balance combined with the energy of the performers, some zingy text, a modular design, and jokes we all get makes Pilot Fish a perfect fit for the fast-paced, grab-that-audience aspect of FringeNYC.
Structurally, the play is well over 15 scenes and monologues, woven together with a couple of different framing devices. I am a big proponent of giving ample attention to transitions, and this creative team certainly does so. However, spoken wordy-choral transitions are the least effective of their methods, creating a serious mood in a dated style for a show that is largely fun times. The dream sequences, on the other hand, are top-notch and meld with the overall mood of the show and cleverly reference little Easter eggs previously dropped in the more realistic scenes. Landing somewhere in between are the comic transitions performed to the max by Liam Jesse Daniels, who plays a microphone-wielding stand up comic. He is uniquely funny, the opposite of shy, and delivers the lines as best as they can be delivered. But that is the problem. It is meant to seem off-the-cuff, ribald, and subject to the audience on whom all the jokes are landing... But because it is so scripted, by a playwright not a comedian I assume, and seems to hold "important" information, the bits are not allowed to breathe and, as a result, they cannot help but fall flat in the end. Despite my preferences when it comes to the transitions that are the glue holding these chronological episodes together, I am glad they exist and I am excited by the specificity bestowed upon them by creators and performers.
Speaking of performers, the play is kept marvelously afloat by some strong performances all 'round, but especially from the fellows in the cast. All three are relentless, adaptable, and unflappable. Daniels is a study in comic versatility, is charming even when he is being gross, and is fully at ease on stage, which is where he should be. Tom Coiner, as the conflicted, oft put upon, and sorta slimy TV producer has magnificent range. He is a rather elastic performer, with equally fast mind and body, doing gymnastics all over a monologue that is elevated dramatically by his performance. He takes great joy in the badness and goodness of his character, which is why I believe him and want to watch him. The heart of the show is with Jeffrey Correia, the struggling writer. He is the most present performer I have seen in a while, while simultaneously maintaining a impressive vocal and physical control. He is tuned into each person on stage and the moments being made, but it never feels like improv. His drunk scene is very drunk, but in the spirit of Jimmy Stewart in The Philadelphia Story, which is eternally brilliant.
Credit is certainly due to writer Patrick Kennedy and director Sasha Bratt for creating an entertaining, fluid, precise piece of theatre.
There is nothing risky or deep or new, but it is TV on stage, done quite well. There are lines that get you in the gut, moments that tickle you, and energy that is infectious. Just like good TV.