Food for Fish
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
July 7, 2006
Adam Szymkowicz's new black comedy, Food for Fish, is a modern take on the Chekhov classic, Three Sisters. This time around the three sisters are Sylvia, an aspiring journalist; agoraphobic Barbara, who hasn't been out of the house in seven years; and mournful Alice, a scientist who is trying to find and isolate the gene for love. They live in Manhattan, but long for the suburban wilds of New Jersey. And, their dead father sits next to them every day—literally. Almost a year after his death they still haven't buried him yet: his coffin lies in the living room. Despite the increasingly bad smell, they just can't bear to part with him.
As you can see, these aren't quite Chekhov's Three Sisters. There are similarities, but Szymkowicz is doing his own thing, detailing the crushing grind of modern urban life where Chekhov skewered the banality of provincial living. And, like Chekhov, Szymkowicz sometimes keeps the audience at an emotional arm's length, but there's craft aplenty to make up for that.
Housebound Barbara also has trouble in the bedroom. Her husband Dexter won't touch her anymore, and sexual anxiety is taking its toll on their marriage. Meanwhile, Alice, nursing a heartache of her own, is serial dating dispassionately for the sake of her research. (She even has a chalkboard full of suitors hanging in her office. Anyone who wants a date can just come in and sign up.) Sylvia becomes obsessed with a developing news story about a local kissing bandit, and vows to track him down for an exclusive interview. As for the bandit, he's a brooding writer named Bobbie who regularly throws pages from his finished novel into the Hudson River.
Szymkowicz has the most fun with Food for Fish's little, telling character details. When Dexter asks his cranky boss what her problem is, she replies, "My mother's been visiting and I haven't been feeling beautiful." Alice nonchalantly answers a question about her pending date that night with "I'm not sure. I have to check my spreadsheet." (Later, she grabs involuntary blood and DNA samples from her paramour in the middle of dinner.) Dexter is so angry at Barbara that he can only get aroused by thoughts of hurting women. The play's most telling detail helps explain why Barbara and Dexter might be having so many problems: she's played by a man, and he's played by a woman (Luis Moreno and Katie Honaker, respectively, both giving lovely, touching performances). It's a deft and subtle enough move by both Szymkowicz and director Alexis Poledouris that exemplifies the odd, unnamable thing about each character that the other can't quite put their finger on.
Poledouris's work here is strong. She's got a good sense of the play's humorously dour themes and expresses them clearly throughout the production (the "Home Sweet Home" sign on top of Daddy's coffin is an especially nice touch). And she elicits equally strong work from the cast. In addition to the aforementioned Moreno and Honaker, Orion Taraban shines as moody Bobbie; Caroline Tamas is funny a variety of roles both male and female; and Anna Hopkins and Ana Perea are both splendid as Sylvia and Alice, respectively. These actors find the humanity in even the play's most unsympathetic characters until the audience has no choice but to root for them all.
Food for Fish shows off its entire company of up-and-comers in a flattering light. This is a talented bunch in a smart, well done play. Catch it before it's gone like the pages of Bobbie's novel.