Teddy Wolff
February 26, 2016 at 12:00 PM EST

Nice Fish

Current Status
In Season
run date
Claire van Kampen
Mark Rylance, Louis Jenkins
We gave it a B

There are some actors who, as the saying goes, you could watch read the phonebook. Three-time Tony winner (Boeing-Boeing, Jerusalem, Twelfth Night) and current Oscar nominee Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies) is one of those actors.

In Nice Fish at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, N.Y., he’s armed with something slightly weightier — if a bit tougher to navigate — than the White Pages: the prose poems of Minnesota’s Louis Jenkins, who co-wrote the eccentric ice-fishing comedy with Rylance. (The pair are old friends; theater buffs might recall Rylance reciting Jenkins’ words in lieu of acceptance speeches at the 2008 and 2011 Tony Awards.)

Fish is at its best when it’s at its most absurd: Rylance, in a fluorescent orange snowsuit, attempting to entertain his intense fisherman pal (Jim Lichtscheidl) by pretending to be a snowman (“I’m very concerned about global warming!”); Rylance imitating a wall-mounted singing fish, or staring through a bologna sandwich “portal”; Rylance dropping wisdom like, “If the human attention span were longer, people would live longer lives.” And Lichtscheidl proves an excellent straight man, the sturdy rhythmic bass line to Rylance’s loopy melody.

The waters get muddied when other random characters float in. Not that sweet young sauna owner Flo (Kayli Carter), straight-talking spear-fisherman Wayne (Raye Birk, now taking over for Jenkins), and the DNR Man (Bob Davis) aren’t amusing additions to Rylance and Jenkins’ subzero setting. They simply seem unnecessary — particularly since Rylance and Lichtscheidl prove such a perfect, almost vaudevillian pairing.

Nowhere is this more evident than the closing sequence, set to Jenkins’ poem “The Afterlife.” The piece depicts an elderly couple reflecting on their life as they shuffle off this mortal coil; yet here, the men sound like a couple chatting as they exit a theater, delivering their critique. “I didn’t get it.” “It didn’t seem to have any plot.” “It seems like things just kept coming at me.” “It’s not much for character development.” “Then a whole lot of new characters came along, and I couldn’t tell who was who.” And suddenly we begin to see why Rylance is so enamored with Jenkins’ work. B

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