While watching Mark Rylance’s existential Nice Fish (presented by Cambridge’s American Repertory Theater), I kept asking myself, “What is this play about?” Written by Rylance and Louis Jenkins, Nice Fish is playing until March 27, 2016 at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn. The work originates from Jenkins’s poetry. Knowing that Rylance is one of the greatest contemporary Shakespearean actors and both a Tony and a recent Academy Award winning actor (Bridge of Spies), I wanted to see this live performance. Having graced the stage at the Royal Shakespeare Company and Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, Rylance has received plaudits for his performances. As Charles Isherwood of The New York Times recently stated, “For a certain slice of New Yorkers- you know who you are- Mark Rylance is the cultural deity that Beyoncé is to, well, a different slice of New Yorkers.” With that information at my fingertips, I decided to see Nice Fish. During the performance in which I attended, Rylance played Ron, and Jim Lichtscheidl played Erik. The play focuses on two men, with occasionally three other characters, in conversation while fishing, and is set in Minnesota during the winter. It has great use of technology, both phenomenal lighting and sound design, and superb costuming that causes a great surprise ending. The issues, however, that may plague the audience member is both the play’s theme and its missing plot. Ironically, the characters at the close of the play discuss what people will say about this play. The two principal characters say the audience members will say that the set design was great, that it had great lighting, that the acting was great, but it had no plot. Then they ask themselves, “What was this play about anyway?” I chuckled at that moment because they knew my exact thoughts. Then the stage goes dark. I now ask, as I ponder this ninety-five minute play, “what was the theme?” or may I say, “the point?” Knowing that Rylance is a Shakespeare buff and that he included some Shakesperean quotes in this work , I will hazard a guess that Nice Fish was about “Shakespeare’s Seven Stages of Man.”
The two principal actors in Nice Fish ruminate about life. Everyone goes through different stages of life, and life events do not always go according to plan. As we age, our lives change. Sometimes, we have pleasant surprises as well as traumatic heartbreaks. Shakespeare’s As you Like it states, ” All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.” Our world represents a stage and our life is a play. The seven stages are: infancy, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, pantalone, and old age with death on the horizon. The play, through pithy maxims and a great use of language, focuses on the different stages of life with all of its disappointments, successes, and unexpected outcomes. The other characters remind them about life and that they are actors in life’s drama. At the end of the play, ironically, one of the two characters catches the largest fish of his life. They then exit as both old age and marriage grips them.
The play is worth seeing, but do not expect a plot. Perhaps this play will tour the country. If you like Mark Rylance, you will love him in this!