Playwright James Comtois’s Dying Goldfish has two distinct parts. The first 40 minutes or so is a well-written, well-acted, nicely detailed, smoothly directed character study of Will (Jeremy Goren) and Carol (Leslie E. Hughes), a brother and sister of different temperaments, and their handling of the romantic and survival aspects of life. Even better, this is accomplished with no interaction between the two. But the awkwardness, bluster, embarrassment, confidence, dissembling, and utter realness of these characters was vital and bracing theater. Will and Carol are both navigating romantic encounters -- Will in an uncomfortable meeting at a bar with Simone (Elizabeth Stewart), a girl he has only a tenuous attachment to, and Carol providing Steve (Patrick Shearer) with after-date coffee and intimacy at her apartment. Director Pete Boisvert easily shifted audience attention between the two scenarios, but ensured enough action and lighting (well-designed by Chris Daly) that the (temporarily) secondary scene was visible, so one operated as counterpoint to the other. It’s a great setup, good even when Will shows up at Carol’s apartment (the unexpected connection between Will and Steve is terrific), and so much character information is transmitted that hopes are high.
In an author’s note in the program, Comtois writes of learning about a kind of a stroke that results in destroying the victim’s ability to control emotions. And so Will and Carol are getting together to go to a family wedding where the father of the bride has suffered such a stroke. Their drive the next morning continues the character study, but once they get to the family home, enter family drama -- and the whole tenor and mood of the play changes. The family friction -- mother (Ree Davis) is a reserved, well-behaved intellectual; the stroke victim, her brother Jim (John McCausland), alternately bursts out with laughter or tears. The difference, then, is between being shown character indirectly and directly, and although there are some flashes of the former, the magic has dissipated. The wedding, with a speech about love, its meaning, and the role of fighting in a successful relationship is sweet, but the play then starts to get repetitious. Will’s tentative approach to Monica (Sabrina Howells), one of the bride’s attendants, has flashes of the previous character sensitivity (as does Carol’s certainty that he will screw it up), and after the wedding when Carol and Will talk about their lives and their family the play is real again -- but then there’s the story of the dying goldfish (it seems a goldfish has a memory of only thirty seconds, so when it’s dying it thinks it’s been dying all its life). It feels shoehorned into a play that doesn’t need it.
And even if Comtois gets a little heavy-handed about academics (the play takes place in a university town), what the production achieves it does so in spades. The superb, real, very natural acting by the entire cast (also including Cat Johnson and Christopher Yutsin as the wide-eyed yet reality-grounded bride and groom), and the fine limning of character by letting them be who they are, are qualities to be highly valued, as was the direction that allowed for slick but unshowy transitions between scenes, keeping more than one plane of action going. The set (designed by Alice M. Golden) and costumes (Lauren Michiell Cavanaugh) were well-executed, and although the sound was uncredited, the music at the wedding reception and in the car were unobtrusive but important components to the scenes. The characters are the thing here, not the point the playwright thinks he needs to make.
Also with Ed Knauer.
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Copyright 2005 David Mackler