‘Nice Fish’ Makes a Splash

If you have never seen a production at Cambridge’s American Repertory Theater, I advise you to buy some tickets as soon as you can. They will not disappoint. In fact, A.R.T.’s current season, themed around the idea of adaptation, is one of their best yet.

American Repertory Theater’s latest adaptation comes from poet Louis Jenkins’ book New Fish: New and Selected Prose Poems and stars British actor Mark Rylance. (If that name sounds familiar, it’s probably because Rylance is up for an Academy Award this year for his work in Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies.)

Nice Fish was conceived and written by Jenkins and Rylance in 2013. Jenkins, who is a longtime resident of Duluth, MN, draws inspiration for his writing from midwestern culture. This certainly comes through in the play, which takes place during a surreal ice fishing trip on a frozen lake in Minnesota. In part , Rylance was drawn to Jenkins’s because he spent many years of his life in neighboring Wisconsin.

Students in the Creative Arts Diploma program attended the show this Tuesday. “I really enjoyed the show…and I’m not sure why,” Zack Rocklin-Waltch ’17 said. “There was so much richness and material, ranging from absurd to profound. I left the theater not understanding quite what it was that made me so attached to this frozen lake in Minnesota, but I was happy about it.”

Nice Fish is not necessarily meant to be understood. “I hate it when I go to…some kind of existential play and everything’s been solved.” Said Rylance, in an interview with DigBoston earlier this month. “They have a dramaturge and they’ve taken everything out and everything’s solved and no one is ever confused. I like to move between confusion and clarity.”

Personally, I admire Rylance’s attitude. Art does not have to be understood to serve its purpose. I was lucky enough to see Nice Fish before opening night last week, and frankly, I did not I “get” it, but then again, it is likely that there was not anything to get. Of course, Rylance is excellent as Ron, a stumbling but well meaning ice fisher. His nuanced ability to be so convincingly soft-spoken and goofy onstage is a rare and underrated skill. Sometimes, I think, it’s enough to appreciate talent and good writing even if you can’t make sense of it.

The American Repertory Theater’s season began with Waitress, adapted from Adrienne Shelley’s independent film and continued with Natasha, Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812, from a section of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which closed in early January.

Over the next several months, the theater group will perform George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 and In The Body of The World, a play based on the memoir of playwright Eve Ensler.

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