Jeune Lune's Fishtank dabbles happily in the shallow end
Also see Ed's review of Same Difference
Theatre de la Jeune Lune's self-created Fishtank is a standing-around sort of a play, a sweet-natured piece that delivers sustained amusement, some outright laughter and flashes of Jeune Lune's signature theater magic. Hints of Beckett underpin the play, with its cheerful sense of meaninglessness, as unpretentious Jules, Jim, Harry and Coco bumble through a pointless day.
The play opens with an inept figure on the corner of the empty stage holding up found car keys. He's so silent and awkward that for an instant I assumed it was a well-meaning audience member. But no, it's versatile Nathan Keepers, who plays this gawky moment with calibrated timing. He's Harry, a thoroughly ordinary chap. His companions leak on stage, as though it's the beginning of a workday. Dominique Serrand is Jules, Stephen Epp is Jim and Jennifer Baldwin Peden is Coco, the only oddly exotic figure in this rumpled bunch.
The informal opening sets the tenor for the rest of the play, as a sequence of semi-familiar routines ensue, and the audience watches in the same way that you might watch unaware fish going about their business in a fish tank.
To enter the institutional-feeling workspace (if that is indeed what it is, with its polished floors and large tank), Coco makes the three men pass through a loopy, airport-like security check that picks on one character. There's a dysfunctional but resourceful vending machine, a floor polisher with an inclination for opera and a wallet that seems to get lost. A bereft Jim, adrift without his revered social security and Visa card numbers, imagines someone else living his life without him and, even worse, living it better than he, himself.
An engaging piece of seamless nonsense involves a plank; a clever fishing sequence with spectacular toilet paper follows, but this lovely moment is somewhat marred by Coco declaring what she's being, when the audience already understands full well, so explicit is her physicality.
All four actors belong in roles that function like grown-up children playing nicely together, but they might need to speak up; in the vastness of the Jeune Lune space, I doubt that people seated in the far reaches could catch much of the limited dialogue, which is spoken at conversational volume.
Jules, with his French accent, leaps at a chance to win a green-card lottery, found in the lid of a water bottle, but then must deal with the lottery of confusing telephone instructions. There's a surprising excavation of earlier times, and one truly Jeune Lune, laugh-out-loud trick has Harry and Jules encountering an extremely slippery floor. In another, Jim and Harry, tied together through the tank door with a length of rope, unwittingly manipulate each other's movements.
Within the large tank there's absolute silence that's breached only by the opening and closing of the door, and is nicely realized in Zachary Humes' sound design.
Why a tank? In this zany piece of Jeune Lune theater, it isn't necessary to know why; better to enter its dreamlike strangeness and surrender to its whimsical charm.
At play's end, as though they are playing with toy blocks, Jules, Jim, Harry and Coco build a miniature stage out of bricks, a suitcase, books and an umbrella, perhaps suggesting that life is no more than a brief moment on an improvised stage.
Fishtank, February 16 - March 22, 2008. Thursdays through Saturdays 8:00 p.m. Sundays, 7:00 p.m. Tickets $9 - $30. Call 612- 333-6200 or www.jeunelune.org. Theatre de la Jeune Lune, Corner of First Street and First Avenue, Minneapolis.