BWW Review: WHEN FISHIES RAIN DOWN FROM THE SKY at Bunbury Theatre
America since the 2016 election has provoked no small amount of questioning. How could it ever have come to this? Beyond the immediacy of partisanship, the GOP has set about dismantling landmark legislation such as the Voting Rights Act. It has sent us reeling back in time to reexamine modern history for clues, and also to seek comfort in moments in which we felt secure in the march of progressiveness.
Playwright Juergen K. Tossmann seeks such a clarifying moment in Ohio in the summer of 1979. Two young college students, Jerry (Andy Szuran) and Mike (Bailey Story) are working as house painters, perched atop a scaffold that frames the back yard door of Atticus Jefferson (Clyde Tyrone Harper). Jerry and Mike are white and Atticus is black and a good deal older, so the air is ripe for racial and generational contrast and conflict.
Mike is the more easygoing of the two, while Jerry comes off as unbelievably unengaged and therefore fully capable of putting his foot in his mouth. Atticus is almost larger than life, a blustery character of great flavor and cultural acumen, his dialogue is liberally peppered with references to noteworthy figures: Muhammad Ali, Negro Baseball legend "Buck" Leonard, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, etc.
When Atticus' granddaughter, Maya (Brittany Patillo) joins the story, it only complicates matters. Both Jerry and Mike are attracted to her, Atticus is somewhat patronizing, but she is no pushover. Through the course of about four days, they talk about food, race, sex, baseball, music, some of it congenially, some of it with some measure of conflict, although never do things boil over.
Whenever social issues are the topic, it can be a challenge not to place speeches in the mouths of the characters. There is certainly some of that here, particularly with Atticus and Maya, although one feels the playwright is perhaps overcompensating by making Jerry a college student so profoundly socially unaware as to stretch credibility.
The polemics are leavened by Tossmann's knack for the rhythm of comedic dialogue, and the cast does well finding those laughs. Clyde Tyrone Harper commands the stage with ease, making this primarily Atticus' story. He may pitch the character a little broadly, but he also never fails to realize the smaller moments, dropping sarcastic asides that reflect the ruminative aspect of the man.
Maya is the most self-aware figure in the story, and Brittany Patillo is an intelligent, charismatic presence that keeps the character from becoming just a feminist mouthpiece. Her scenes with Jerry and Mike individually give the story a more intimate foundation. Within the larger context, these are still regular people trying to get by, get stoned, get laid, and get on with their lives.
After Mike brings up Franz Kafka, Atticus christens him with the nickname "Kafka". Bailey Story plays the character in an understated manner, natural and unforced. Jerry, called "Bouvier" by Atticus, is more problematic because of that profound lack of social engagement, and Andy Szuran struggles to flesh out the underwritten character. He and Story do a fair amount of singing, (with air guitar accompaniment) of Jimi Hendrix and the Allman Brothers, and Szuran is possessed of a very nice singing voice.
Charles Nasby provides a beautifully realized setting, fleshed out by Hannah Greene's properties and costumes that feel authentic but don't draw undue attention. Gerald Kean lights to effectively render the changing summer light.
When Fishies Rain Down From the Sky captures a snapshot of a moment in time in which, in years following Watergate and the new administration of President Jimmy Carter, there was bred in the American identity a sense of hope that felt hard-won but was not sustainable. Whatever insight Tossmann intends for his audience to discover, and the apocalyptic image in the title promises a difficult truth, it must be discovered through an honest identification with these characters on our own terms.
When Fishies Rain Down From The Sky
June 14, 15, 20, 21, 22, 27, 28 & 29 @ 7:30pm
June 16, 23 & 30 @ 2:00pm
Henry Clay Theatre
604 South Third Street
Louisville, KY 40202