Food for Fish: “I wanted to direct it”

As soon as I started reading Adam Szymkowicz’s FOOD FOR FISH, I knew that I wanted to include it in the 2009 Essential Theatre Play Festival, and that I wanted to direct it. I’m not sure I could have articulated why I felt this way, except that found the script to be funny and weird and beautiful (a combination that I always like). There’s a lot of stuff in it about writing, which I’m drawn to, and it also looks at the differences between the way we often try to idealize ourselves into fantasy relationships, instead of dealing with the reality of the people we get close to (another fascination of mine, although it took me longer to recognize how important a part of the play this was.)

So, I didn’t start out the rehearsal process with a firm, fixed concept in mind – I told the cast that I responded to the play intuitively, not analytically, and that I could always explain why I felt that some things should be pla yed a certain way, and that they were all very much the right people for their parts. As a result, our rehearsals have been an evolving series of explorations and discoveries, with some ideas taken up and discarded, and new ones rising up to take their place.

I had the pleasure of meeting the playwright a few weeks ago, and he told me that the play had been written fairly quickly and then produced — having gone through almost no development process. This didn’t surprise me, and I think he was lucky to have had things go that way – this is the kind of script that the group discussions and second-guessing of most development processes could not much help, and would probably hurt. This is not to say that many plays aren’t helped by such processes – I hope that the development work done by the Essential Theatre with some new plays, over the years, has been good for their writers. But, sometimes, it’s better to go with a writer’s unbridled, unchecked impulses.

What kind of play is FOOD FOR FISH? It’s a comedy, that’s often sad – rather like Chekhov. Which isn’t a haphazard reference – the play is full of Chekhov motifs, from the three sisters who long to return home to New Jersey, to the tormented young writer who throws a dead pigeon at the feet of his lady love. It’s also like a dream play, full of connections that work on the subliminal level rather than in the dramaturgical manner of a well-made play.

Men play women, sometimes, and vice-versa, all the while their characters are trying to figure out why people fall in love, and what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman. When you’ve got a male character — played by an actress, saying that he’s trying to figure out how men should behave — it throws our whole notions of “how things are supposed to be” into a new, revealing and comic perspective. To the writer’s credit, he doesn’t just play this for laughs – he gives us insights into the ways we trap ourselves by trying to live up to the fantasies we see on television, and read in magazines – rather than trying to understand who we truly are, and how our realities can relate to one another.

I couldn’t ask for a better cast. I’ve worked with all of them before, which makes for a trust that you need when you’re delving into such original and unusual material.

Sylvia, the youngest sister, is played by Kate Graham, who dazzled everybody playing Sally the Homecoming Queen and Princess Sophia the Hunchback in our production of Paul Rudnick’s VALHALLA last summer.&nb sp; Since then she’s appeared in BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS at the Center Theatre, and she’s also the star of the cult horror-comedy film Poultrygeist – the Night of the Living Chicken. Check it out!

Alice, the middle sister, is played by Dad’s Garage favorite Eve Krueger, while Barbara, the oldest, is played by Charles Swint. I’ve known Charles for years, and directed him as Adam in our production of THE MOST FABULOUS STORY EVER TOLD a few years back (but he keeps his clothes on, this time – even if they’re mostly women’s clothes). He also appeared in our hit production of THE BOOK OF LIZ (named one of the year’s best shows by the AJC).

The oldest sister’s husband is played by Sarah Falkenburg Wallace, who was nominated for a M etropolitan Atlanta Theatre Award for her performance in the Essential’s MRS. BOB CRATCHIT’S WILD CHRISTMAS BINGE, and played the title role in our World Premiere of Karen Wurl’s MISS MACBETH (which the AJC called “a doozy of a backstage farce … a delightful laugh-bath”). Having two skillful comic performers like Sarah and Charles play husband and wife (but with the genders reversed) is inherently funny … but not campy. We’ve been going for the heart of these characters, and have found that the more real we can make them, the funnier they are.
Brent Nicholas Rose plays the kissing-bandit-writer, coming of a year where he’s worked with Synchronicity Performance Group and Dad’s Garage. Last summer he played the lead role in our Regional Premiere of Gina Gionfriddo’s AFTER ASHLEY, which has been nominated as Best Production of a Play by the Metropolitan Atlanta Theatre Awards. Rounding out the cast is Kelly Criss, having a great time playing (at last count) eleven different characters – both male and female. You may have seen her in THE LITTLE DOG LAUGHED at Theatre In the Square’s Alley Stage.

We open up July 5, at Actor’s Express, and there’ll be eight performances between then and August 1. Check out our website at https://www.essentialtheatre.com/ for information and scheduling. Hope you’ll come see us!
Peter