Imagine with me, if you will, a common scenario. There’s a man and a wife. They’ve been together for a while. The heat they once shared has all but died out. Instead of any romance, they just have rows, and in place of any affection, there’s just stale, monotonous boredom. This is not a new situation. Director/screenwriter Nancy Meyers has made a small fortune from exploiting this very phenomenon — the listless marriage. In fact, this plot device has been so overdone, it might be said to fall into the same kind of rut it typifies. Thank God then for playwright Steve Yockey’s “The Fisherman’s Wife” — now playing at the Impact Theatre — which wrestles (quite literally) the sex farce out from this abyss with none other than that tried-and-true technique — tentacle rape.
Yes, you read that correctly. Tentacle rape, in the vein of that infamous painting (“The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife”) by Japanese artist Hokusai, plays a crucial role in this slightly deranged, madcap comedy. Husband and wife Cooper (Maro Guevara) and Vanessa (Eliza Leoni) Minnow are at their wits’ end. He’s a scrawny, neurotic fisherman. She’s a spiteful housewife hell-bent on destroying every last shred of his fragile self-esteem. Their sex life? “Basically imaginary.”
What happens next is quite possibly too strange to describe. Like a hare-brained fever dream from the combined minds of Lewis Carroll and Woody Allen, a cast of increasingly bizarre characters take the stage. There’s the door-to-door salesman/seducer, Thomas Bell (Adrian Anchondo) who acts as a type of Greek chorus, if Greek choruses wore nautical-themed underroos. Then, there’s the squid and the octopus who speak in unison, wear old-fashioned bathing costumes and lure victims into their perverse sexual predilections. Ergo, the tentacle rape.
Now, this all might sound perhaps too frivolous, too wild, too much like the result of a playwright’s drunken stab at Mad Libs. In any other theatrical setting, this might’ve been the case. But, the intimate setting of the Impact (only a few square feet, cramped beneath La Val’s Pizza) lends an improvisational atmosphere to the show. There’s a freedom on the stage, helped by the minimal set dressings, multiple prop gags and intensely kinetic chemistry of the actors.
Scene after scene, rapid-fire deliveries of delightful phrases like “sticky beast juice” or inventive stagings of puppet-show flashbacks make “The Fisherman’s Wife” utterly engrossing instead of, as it easily could’ve been, utterly off-putting. The actors’ commitment to the play’s absurdity adds to this absorbing effect, as the two deviant cephalopods, Sarah Coykendall and Roy Landaverde play off each other like a tentacled Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Meanwhile, Anchondo’s curious charm as Thomas Bell necessitates the use of the term “sexuberance.”
So, it’s all good and fun. The Impact Theatre is noted for their presentation of particularly camp, and often ostentatiously light-hearted material. “The Fisherman’s Wife” does not differ in this regard. However, the criticism could be levied that the “sex farce with sea creatures” is an empty play — a superfluous romp in the basement of a pizza restaurant that masks true tragedy. And there is some legitimacy to that. There are some truly horrific dealings in this show. These characters are selfish, vicious and quite possibly deserving of the pain (both emotional and physical) they incur. And yet, that somehow doesn’t matter.
For all the heavier, provocative shows about the economic crisis, the breakdown of traditional families or the pet word of every freshman philosophy student (“existentialism”), to say the entertainment of a play like this is empty is to misunderstand the dual purpose of entertainment — the pain of reason and the pleasure of sin. Given the instance of tentacle rape, “The Fisherman’s Wife” offers both in spades.
Jessica Pena is the lead theater critic. Contact Jessica at [email protected]