Nice Fish, a charmingly sweet play brought to us by the brilliant and fun mind of Mark Rylance and masterfully simple poetry of Louis Jenkins is coming to us in a beautifully realized production at St. Ann’s Warehouse out in Dumbo, Brooklyn. These two both star in this existential bit of spoken philosophy, although the night we saw it, Raye Birk was playing Jenkins’ part, Wayne, the experienced but luckless fisherman, and he was just plain wonderful. But Mark Rylance, Oscar winner (Bridge of Spies), and Tony winner (Boeing, Boeing, Jerusalem), was there, inhabiting the part of Ron, the verbally active, but inexperienced one. And what a joy it is to behold these two, and the others that cross their paths in this short 90 min exercise of poetry and abstractionism. It truly is exceptional to watch these wonderful actors having such fun, and feeling the joy of playing with these amazing words and works of poetry.
This is not your typical play, and not your typical day on a frozen Minnesota lake (where Rylance spent many of his early years and Jenkin’s spent most of his). It begins with the two trying to drill some holes in a very expansive frozen lake, spectacularly created by Todd Rosenthal (lighting design by Japhy Weideman). The lake seems to go on for ever, as we can see small lights and trees in the far off edge of the lake. Between here and there, there is just snow and ice, and a few ice cabins scattered here and there. It’s so well created and imagined, that I do feel the cold in the air, and never doubt for a minute that these characters do as well. I actually felt myself worry at moments when one of the characters doesn’t seem dressed for the cold. Snippets of Jenkins’ poetry is spoken as dialogue, by these two, and the three visitors (a magnificent Kayli Carter as Flo, a hilarious Bob Davis as The DNR Man, and a sweet charmer, Jim Lichtscheidl as Erik), with blackouts in-between these non-connecting dots of thought and whimsy. Some of them are hilarious, and some are just unique and fun, while a few fall a little flat on my ear. But only a few. The wind storm, the puppetry, and the steam room are as funny, inventive, and charming as you can imagine.
If you are going for plot, this is not the Warehouse to find yourself in. This is just about enjoying their joy and their melancholy in all things about life, love, and ice fishing courtesy of the wonderful direction of Claire von Kampen. Bundled up in appropriate ice fishing gear (wonderfully designed by Ilona Somogyi) the five lovely and charming characters talk, recite, play and engage with each other and we are lucky enough to be invited to join them out on this slab of ice in a lake in Minnesota. It’s filled with wit and charm to spare, a bit sad, and when it winds it’s way into an obscure abstract ending, Nice Fish brought a smile to my face and warmth to my heart, even on that cold cold lake.