Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Come back here, man, gimme my daughter

October 31, 2007

Alice Ripley, German Santiago, and Samantha Shelton Photo: Blank Theater 2007

The Blank Theater in Hollywood rolls on this fall as the local home for the works of John Michael LaChiusa with a West Coast Premiere of Little Fish. After successful runs of The Wild Party and Hotel C’est L’Amour this production seems like a no-brainer, but in the hands of director Kirsten Sanderson and her strong cast, it is far from that. Fish is a sort-of women’s response to Company where Bobby is a woman looking for a reason for being (alive) in the big city. Of course this is a contemporary work so there are some differences. None of Charlotte’s friends are married but the modern equivalent – catty well-dressed single women and gay men. Plus, she has her revelation about life not via a terrifying come-on from a much older woman, but instead realizes her worth when one friend finds “a lump” and another is beaten by his ex-boyfriend. Those times, the are a-changing.

Of course Little Fish suffers from one of the same challenges as Compnay - albeit far less successfully. The central character is a bit of an empty shirt for most of the show and is therefore somewhat hard to care about. Charlotte wanders around for nearly two hours wondering why she can’t seem to care about her life or react to anything that happens around her. However, all of this is cleverly book ended by Charlotte’s struggles to give up smoking and LaChiusa’s keen sense of wit propels the work almost single-handedly. Which is a good thing considering that Little Fish suffers from that modern confusion of character development for plot. Everyone stands around being witty and having revalations, but nothing ever really happens.

Alice Ripley and Dina Morishita
Photo: The Blank Theater 2007
Still, despite an empty hole that the star, Alice Ripley, does her darndest to work around, there are some excellent juicy small parts here that the cast makes much hay of. Cinder, played by Samantha Shelton, is Charlotte's near-psychotic roommate and grabs every spare bit of attention when she is on stage in the best of all possible ways. Gregory Jbara similarly has a brief but hysterical cameo as a former lecerous boss, Mr Bunter. The singing from the cast never quite lives up to the acting, but in LaChiusa's world all can easily be forgiven. Little Fish runs through Novemeber 18.

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