nytheatre.com review by Will Fulton
June 1, 2011
Fish Eye, a new play by Lucas Kavner and directed by Colt Coeur artistic director Adrienne Campbell-Holt, explores the age-old intersection of young love and creative ambition. A logical result of young artists writing what they know, this is well-worn territory (cf. SubUrbia, Reality Bites). This piece's particular twist, a non-linear chronology bouncing around freely between break-up and first meeting, is an effective if also oft-used trope for this type of story (cf. Annie Hall, The Last Five Years, (500) Days of Summer). By opening the show with the breakup and liberating the story from linear narrative causality, the relationship can be laid out as a single dynamic object for magnification (as if under the titular Fish Eye) and contemplation. This is not a play of dramatically knock-down, drag-out fights and tearful revelations. Rather it is a study of Boggle games, nascent inside jokes, and all of the prosaic minutiae that actually constitute the meat of a relationship.
The central pair in question are aspiring filmmaker Anna (played alluringly by Betty Gilpin) and less-aspiring (though no less talented) musician Max (a charmingly dopey Joe Tippett). Their necessarily romantic foils are Max's long-pining childhood friend Avery (a heartbreakingly earnest Katya Campbell) and Anna's college flame Jay (a gregarious and charming Ato Essandoh), an infuriatingly (to Max) affable and successful globe-trotting environmental activist. The story covers the three years between Anna and Max meeting at a party and finally splitting up. Max would forsake artistic ambition in order to build a stable life around Anna, while she contemplates a more serious commitment to her career. Jay, much to Max's chagrin, is encouraging Anna to pursue a graduate degree, while Avery remains present and supportive for Max in whatever he wants while nursing her own long-standing affection for him. The cast is universally strong, creating characters that are extremely likable and richly nuanced.
Kavner's script crackles with wry banter that strikes that perfect balance of enhanced realism where the characters are convincingly familiar like your friends, just more attractive and articulate. Campbell-Holt's direction is surgically subtle. She fills out Kavner's sharp dialogue with a tapestry of little gestural moments that do wonders to make these relationships convincingly specific and real. The fractured chronology is managed fantastically in both its thoughtful writing and deft staging, such that momentum is never lost and the audience is never distracted by placing scenes into the show's history.
Colt Coeur has assembled an extremely talented group of artists for Fish Eye. They have created a show that is confidently nuanced, if somewhat comfortably familiar. They are certainly a company worth keeping on one's radar and hopefully they will use this fantastic momentum to pursue work in the future that is more formally ambitious so as to match the talent of the people making it.