A singing hopeful. A pre-operative male-to-female transsexual. A greeting card writer. A chocolate-addicted southerner. A fitness-obsessed triathlete. What is the link between these people? Each is a contestant on the unscripted television program at the center of Fish Bowl.
Six people are chosen at random to compete for eleven million dollars. While waiting for the production team to give instruction, an unpredictable series of events unfolds when the six contestants stop being polite and start getting real.
Katie Apicella, Mike Borrelli, Simone Harrison, and Pamela Stewart are hilarious in their roles that exploit clichéd characters from unscripted television. Victor Verhaeghe is hilarious as pre-op transwoman Alberto Riverez but walks the fine line between performance and insult with serious risk. Rieko Yamanaka, Christine Poland, and Shevaun Hiler are skilled dancers, capturing the sharpness and silliness of the energetic movement Jennifer Rocha has created.
Jian Jung has designed an incredible setting that uses neon colors and college student furnishings to keep the viewer focused. The frame around the proscenium Jung has designed is clever and evokes the image of a television, allowing the viewer to watch the performance as if he were watching an actual television program. Jason Kichline has created cool video diaries that are used to optimum effect throughout the production, and Stephen Pitkin has composed music full of suspense and atmosphere.
I Ate What? Theater produces original work integrating multimedia and dance that exposes the ridiculous nature of American culture with resolve and humor. Fish Bowl, an attempt to realize that mission, is humorous but lacks substantial social comment. Writers Simona Berman and Andrew Thomas Pitkin have written an amusing reflection on the impact of unscripted television in American culture but their work is problematic, undermining the potential seriousness of their effort. Yes, Fish Bowl exposes the ridiculous nature of American culture, but it is not explicit in its attack and criticism. Characters are underdeveloped. Each represents one of the clichés seen time and again in unscripted television when it seems the point of a social and cultural exposé is to humanize as opposed to pigeonhole people, showing them and the viewer how exploitation factors into perception. What is more, events occur that are inorganic in terms of the dramatic structure. Scenes are unrelated and serve to foster laughter as opposed to foster serious discussion about a serious societal problem. Fish Bowl neither shows the devastating effects of the unscripted television in a believable fashion nor presents positive alternatives to the genre.
For all the viewer knows, however, Berman and Pitkin use Fish Bowl to show how the American public has become complicit in the endorsement of television programming like Wife Swap, Extreme Makeover, Average Joe, and American Idol. That the ridiculousness of Fish Bowl causes laughter on the part of the viewer shows how he has become disillusioned, and that is an achievement on its own.