by CHRISTINE SARKES
Finding Fish at the Illusion Theater is a labor of love for playwright Carlyle Brown, who lived a seafaring life for over twenty years on the Maine coast. A commission to write a play about the sustainability of Maine’s fisheries led to this work, which imagines a future world in which much of the coast is underwater and consumable fish a rare commodity. The play is well written, superbly acted and raises important points about fish management and ecology. On a human level, the play shows what happens when family members take opposite sides of an issue where the stakes are so high.
The play weaves in myths and science fiction as Michael (Paul de Cordova) returns to his family home, now occupied by his older brother Peter (Bill McCallum) and strange, new sister-in-law, Fiona (Jennifer Blagen). The setting is a dystopian future where global warming has seriously impacted weather, coastlines and livelihoods. The patriarch of the family, Henry (Steve Hendrickson), pays a visit just as Michael arrives and begins to berate his son for his absence and his choice of profession — siding with the government and industry over the needs of local fisherman. Michael believes in his mission, despite his father’s disapproval, and has come to convince his brother Peter to speak to a symposium about his success as a fisherman. Peter is cast as a local hero, no more so than in his father’s eyes, but has secrets he is unwilling to share, including the story behind his success in finding and catching nearly extinct fish. Fiona enters and exits the scenes with few words, acting as a kind of blank slate onto which the men can imprint their own thoughts and troubles. Without giving away a plot point, Fiona is a free spirit, loves the sea and prefers to swim in the nude. Blagen has brief onstage moments of full nudity. The drama unfolds by weaving family disputes with ecological ones but often doesn’t fully flesh out either. Some family secrets are hinted at but not revealed and some were discussed too much. The ending of the play also felt abrupt—my companion and I were left with several unanswered questions.
Still, the acting and writing are excellent and the topic timely and relevant. We also enjoyed the set design and use of video. The playbill notes make a clear tie to Minnesota’s waters and the state of the world’s oceans: “Pollutants washed down the Mississippi River have created a ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico that stretches for thousands of miles. At this year’s State Fair Minnesota Governor Dayton declared 2016-17 his Year of Water Action, inviting Minnesotans to sign a water stewardship pledge.”
Finding Fish, written by Carlyle Brown, directed by Noel Raymond. Scene design by Dean Holzman, lighting design by Mike Wangen, sound and video design by C. Andrew Mayer, and costume design by Claire Brauch. At the Illusion Theater now through October 29, Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts, 8th Floor, 528 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis. Tickets: $25-30 (discounts available) at box office, 612-339-4944 or illusiontheater.org.