So, Fish in the Dark Kinda, Sorta Blows

I don’t understand Larry David. I just don’t.

You have Jayne Houdyshell working her ass off as a no-bullshit, kinda-cray cray wife/mom. Molly Ranson is there doing an extended Eliza Doolittle impersonation/joke. Some dude named Jake Cannavale (Bobby Cannavale’s son) is making a decent Broadway debut and performing in an actually funny (if a little 90’s sitcom-ey) sequence.

But Fish in the Dark - now open at the Cort Theatre - is still a disaster and that is because of David’s influence.

Not just a disaster, but a dated one. People coming into Fish in the Dark are probably expecting something akin to Curb Your Enthusiasm or Seinfeld (David’s television claim-to-fames), but the end result is the worst rehash of either show. Like, Seinfeld reruns play on seemingly every channel at every hour of the day…but even TBS or whomever would look at this Fish in the Dark two-hour theatre hodgepodge and kindly say, “no thanks; we’re good.”

The concept isn’t flawed per say…it revolves around a hospitalized patriarch and the ensuing shenanigans that happen to his family, from how to divvy up his wealth and belongings to what happens to his wife to unresolved family conflicts. But David’s writing aims for a chuckle seemingly every minute (or every other line, for that matter) and the hit-to-miss ratio is, like, one out of ten. And while the sexism isn’t as blatant as, say, Honeymoon in Vegas, the female characters are relegated to such illustrious tropes as nagging wife/mother, catty bitches, hot blond with boobs, annoying actress or Hispanic maid. Womenhood y’all!

The attempts to be funny when this "old white guy" pastiche comedy - that turned out to be so aggressively NOT funny - is what really grated me, especially when I was in an audience whom got a bigger kick out of the show and it also happens to be pulling in the box office grosses left, right and center (or orchestra, mezzanine and balcony rather).

I have to be honest - and this is gonna hurt my soul because I love her so much - but Anna D. Shapiro’s direction can be inconsistent. Her set change game is top-notch, impressibly turning one stage into at least four distinct locations. But her transitions in Fish in the Dark consisted of a huge curtain-sized graphic of a hospital form that had text imprinted on it with a type-writer sound. It got a little too clunky and time-consuming, bringing the “action” (using that term as loosely as possible) to a grinding halt. And when some of the text on the curtain started being all animated and moving around and beating the shit out of other text, that was a total “WTF Even” Anna.

She has her moments of brilliance (August Osage County, Domesticated), but This is Our Youth had too many laughs and Fish in the Dark didn’t have enough of them. I think she is vindicated here - oh have I mentioned, Larry David’s writing here utterly sucked - but I am growing suspicious of her.

Lest I end this review a little too negative, my usual “big-name, filthy-rich person coming to Broadway” disclaimer applies. It’s cool that David opted for Broadway (as a writer and an actor) since he could just take his Seinfield/Curb Your Enthusiasm multi-millions and bathe in it for all we care. And I feel bad for anyone else opening a new play at the moment, what with the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Disgraced, The River, Constellations and the upcoming Hand to God culminating in one helluva season.

But yeah, Fish in the Dark is weak sauce and can’t sit with us. End of story.

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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