With his manic juggling of a one-note joke for the sixty minutes of Nerve, playwright Adam Szymkowicz seemed to be modeling himself after Christopher Durang. With his new play, Food for Fish, Szymkowicz is both more polished and less manic, but he’s still modeling his scripts: this time it’s Anton Chekhov. The urbanized result tries a little too hard, and Szymkowicz is still struggling to flesh out his characters, but two (Bobbie and Sylvia) come across as genuine, and the play itself is eerily entertaining.
Food for Fish opens with Bobbie, a writer, plunging a knife into his hand to convince himself that it wouldn’t be a stupid thing for a character to do. This man, less than sane, is the Konstantin of this piece, and has a tendency both to flirt with his loaded pistol (which, per Chekhov’s rules, you know is going to go off) and to kiss random strangers in the middle of the night. It is through one of these lip-locked interludes that he encounters Barbara, an agoraphobic person, and later, her two sisters, Sylvia and Alice. (These “three sisters” live together, pine for New Jersey—at least in one recurring joke—, and use the encoffined body of their decomposing, gravedigger father as a coffee table.)
Bobby falls for the youngest sister, Sylvia, but is unable to escape the story unfolding in his head (one which, ala Well, leads to the other characters correcting his narration). Unfortunately, as Bobby keeps reminding us, this is a story about him, and the cryptic pieces we get of his personality, no matter how well portrayed by the arresting Orion Taraban, end up not telling much of a story at all. That leaves us with the melodramatic affairs of three sisters, one of whom is inexplicably played by a male actor (his/her husband is played by a woman). There are a few moments of gender struggle late in the second act, but the overall choice is poorly directed, poorly acted, and poorly scripted, and takes away from the momentum. Every time there’s a build, Luis Moreno (who plays the “wife”) speaks, and the play becomes a bad episode of Kids in the Hall.
Szymkowicz is good at imitating Chekhov’s natural rhythms, but I wish he maintained the soul of Chekhov’s characters too. Ana Perea, who plays the cold, curt, and depressed middle sister, is a fine actor, but making her character believable seems impossible. All the subtext in the world can’t save her from the nth “I feel empty.” And it is not the dead seagull itself, but the idea behind it: Bobby’s solemn sacrifice of a pigeon seems more like a sight gag than a statement. Then again, Taraban and Anna Hopkins (Sylvia) manage to plumb the depths of their characters, so maybe director Alexis Poledouris isn’t to blame. (And I wouldn’t want to: the blocking on this “no”-budget set is phenomenal.)
Szymkowicz is still growing, and growing in the right way; if Food for Fish suffers from anything, it is that it too-resembles Chekhov’s so-called comedies: it isn’t very funny.
Kraine Theater (85 E 4th Street)
Tickets (212-352-3101): $17.00
Performances: Wednesday-Saturday @ 8:00