BWW Reviews: Talent Shines in the Mystifying GOLDFISH THINKING

By: Aug. 27, 2012

It’s difficult to describe the plot of and impetus behind Longacre Lea’s world premiere production of Goldfish Thinking, written and directed by the company’s own Kathleen Akerley (with directorial assistance from Tom Carman).   Summarizing ‘what happens’ in this non-linear piece in a line or two would not be sufficient to explain all of the complexities and nuances present.  At the surface level, it is a story about a Georgetown Law School student (Dana Semenko, played by the delightful Heather Haney) who grapples with disturbing dreams she has while awake.  These dreams make her question her state of psycho-social being, ideals, fate, and what’s real and imagined.  Digging deeper, it’s clear that Akerley is flexing her creative muscles to present a thought-provoking discussion, which more than transcends the line between the realistic and absurd, the observable and non-observable, and fantasy and reality.  The end result, at least from a structural perspective, is a bit mystifying, but certainly, there are things to appreciate in this production.

Fundamentally, the theatrical exercise allows ample opportunity for the 10 cast members to take on a formidable acting challenge.  Likewise, the designers have a chance to create a universe that is not quite realistic, but not quite fantastical either.   Both of those groups certainly rise to the challenge.  Akerley too shows some promise as a playwright.  In its current form, the script is unwieldy, unfocused, and overly long.  However, there are certainly nuggets of brilliance within in that can be further focused and explored. 

The tight, hardworking ensemble cast, comprised of relative newcomers and veterans of the DC stage, makes the most of the time on stage.  Anna Brungardt, Michael Glenn, Heather Haney, William Hayes, Ashley DeMain, Tyler Herman, Slice Hicks, Chris Davenport, Jennifer Hopkins, and Jesse Terrill all have a well-executed moment in the spotlight.   Several of them deserve special mention for making those moments count the most.   

Haney has the most challenging role of the bunch as a considerable portion of the play takes place in her inner-mind- with the other part focusing on her interacting with her law school cohorts in reality.   Her grounded and natural performance throughout the entire script is noteworthy as it allows the two ‘parts’ of the script to work better as one.  Glenn is also engaging as socially-awkward law student, Warner Warren, and has a believable chemistry with both Haney and Hayes and DeMain who play other law students in Haney’s circle of friends.  Davenport takes on several roles in the play, but excels the most as Chairman Mao (don’t ask) during the dream sequences.  His take on the character is both appropriately dictatorial and comedic. 

Elizabeth Jenkins McFadden’s set is multi-purpose and innovative.  Serving as a Law School library, healers’ offices, and a platform for the dream sequences to occur, it mirrors the script in that it blends the ordinary with the odd.  The massive books (which double as stairs and, in some cases, floors) are a nice touch to show this juxtaposition.  Neil McFadden’s sound design is delightfully eerie when needed and subtle enough to not detract from the action.  The same can be said for John Burkland’s minimalist lighting design.  Gail Stewart Beach’s costume go from mundane, graduate student ‘every day wear’ to interesting and colorful wear for the characters in the ‘other’ reality.

Akerley is at her best in the script when she carefully balances the dream sequences with Dana’s ‘real life’ studying with her friends in the library and attending classes.  We can appreciate the complexities of Dana’s inner-mind and her inner struggles when we see her dreams acted out in small doses, but when we stray too far from the ‘real world’ for a lengthy period of time, questions begin to arise as to the playwright’s intent.  There are several stories at play in the script and Ms. Akerley would be wise to choose those which have the most promise from a dramatic standpoint and focus on them.  The non-linear storytelling is not the problem (though it can become a bit muddled at time) so much as the lack of focus and evident story arc.  

Overall, I commend Ms. Akerley and the rest of the cast and creative team for sharing this challenging piece with local audiences.  New works, such as this one, deserve a place in the local theatrical community and should be given the chance to be furthered developed.  

Pictured: Jennifer Hopkins and Heather Haney. Photo by C. Stanley Photography. 

Goldfish Thinking plays through September 9, 2012 at The Callan Theatre at Catholic University, 3801 Harewood Road, NE, Washington, DC.  Running Time:  2 hours and 10 minutes including an intermission. For information and ticket information, visit the Longacre Lea website.



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