Review: Few Laughs Had At WMU's "Fish In The Dark"

Mar 22, 2018

Credit John Lacko

Fans of Larry David’s TV show, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” may find something to like in The University Theatre’s “Fish in the Dark”. But David’s zany script about the schemes and plots of Norman and family in the wake of their father Sydney’s death, isn’t for everyone, nor is this production. 


“Fish in the Dark” includes the patented David one-liners, the physical shtick and the usual obsessing over details. It’s not that the play isn’t funny. But one gets the sense that David’s comic situations, and the energy that this capable student cast expends, should yield far more in the way of belly laughs instead of the titters emanating from Saturday evening’s full house.

David has observed how the solemnity exhibited by family members around a relative’s death and subsequent funeral, can be funny as it’s so out of character for the people involved. Perhaps observing a little solemnity, such as speaking in hushed tones in the hospital, could have generated more humor. Director Mark Liermann could have better focused the chaotic action and toned down the volume by the crowd of characters surrounding the death bed scene, for example.  

Then there’s Director Liermann’s curious production concept. The program states that the play takes place “on the set of a sitcom in New York City”. Liermann positions two large video screens above the stage with live video of the play below from a visible two camera shoot. Although Larry David is a producer and writer of sitcoms, Liermann’s choice is not one that works well for this show or for the theatre. It might have been the motivating factor behind one patron’s audible intermission comment: “At home I would have turned it off.”

One major problem is that the audience’s attention is constantly divided between two overhead screens and the onstage action. Where should we look when Brenda, the aggravated daughter-in-law, has a crisp potentially side splitting exit line? At her close up on camera one? At the group shot on camera two? Or at the actors onstage?

The result is that some laugh lines are rendered as muddy as the metaphor in the play’s title and that actors are consistently upstaged by their own images. There were also numerous video glitches and the camera frame failed to contain the show’s animated action.

Chris Riley’s lighting design works well for the stage portion of the evening. Similarly, Scenic Designer Sarah Reed, provides an attractive art-deco influenced multi-level set that accommodates numerous scene changes. Some of the evening’s more engaging performances included Asia Dixon as Brenda, Kelli Castello as housekeeper Fabiana, Jessica Klimushyn as Norman’s stage struck daughter and Cameron Nickola in a dual role as Diego and his father, Sidney’s, ghost.

Finally, one attempt at humor is clearly out of place. In a brief discussion with his brother, playboy Arthur jokingly and callously recalls sexual encounters that exploited hotel housekeeping staff. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, Larry David’s comedy from 2015 falls flat here and fails to illicit even titters. This scene and others may cause some audience members to question whether this show holds anything sacred other than laughter.

Be advised that this play is for mature audiences. It uses strong language and adult situations. And in doing so, “Fish in the Dark” also leaves far less to the imagination than one would hope for.