Pretty good. Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.
That is not necessarily your reviewer’s assessment of Fish in the Dark, the new–and already hugely successful–comedy from Larry David, who is making his Broadway debut both as writer and actor. It is, rather, actual dialogue recited toward the end of the show by David, the cocreator of Seinfeld and creator of Curb Your Enthusiasm, the long-running and much-beloved HBO show in which he plays a curmudgeonly version of himself.
Curb’s devotees made up a vast portion of the critics’ preview attended, and given the ecstatic reaction that greeted the unleashing of the above catchphrase, it’s safe to say that this is David’s “Hotel California” or “Stairway to Heaven.” Had patrons actually started holding up lighters, one would only have been somewhat surprised.
Indeed, Fish–efficiently directed by August: Osage County’s Tony-winning helmer Anna D. Shapiro–represents something of a greatest hits set for Larry David and, for that matter, “Larry David.” While he technically plays Norman Drexel, a urinal industry executive of some very sketchily sketched-in stripe, he is essentially reprising his Curb character, from his outfits to his open-palmed gesticulations to his twin obsessions of sex and things that irritate him.
The slight but morbidly humorous plot is also straight from the Curb playbook: following the death of Norman’s father (The Good Wife’s Jerry Adler), our kvetching hero attempts to secure funds for Pop’s illegitimate son Diego (Nurse Jackie vet Jake Cannavale) with a scheme whose details we won’t spoil here.
Another familiar-seeming character is Norman’s much-exasperated wife Brenda (Rita Wilson), a spiritual sibling to the role played by Cheryl Hines on Curb. But whereas Hines’ Cheryl David had as many different ways to be annoyed at her husband as he had ways to annoy her (which is a lot), Wilson’s Brenda is much less nuanced in her ire. David, as playwright, also lumbers Brenda with the ability to remember almost every day of her life, a characteristic that never really pays off, especially given the amount of time it occupies.
Far superior is Rosie Perez’s vibrant and believable turn as Norman and Brenda’s housekeeper Fabiana. Other notable cast members include Jayne Houdyshell as Norman’s handful-of-a-mother Gloria and Ben Shenkman as his richer and–to Norman–highly irritating brother, Arthur.
But Fish in the Dark is most definitely David’s show and this latest half-twist of his persona proves an entertaining comedy machine as Norman ruminates on, say, the inappropriateness of Arthur bringing along a date on a hospital visit, or why he hates being handed a phone to speak with someone (“Too much pressure!”). If the result is only pretty good, Curb fans should nevertheless look forward to it with, well, enthusiasm.