Review: ‘Fish Men’ Is Sure To Reel You In
By Miles Harter, Contributing Writer, February 22, 2017
Fish Men is a stunning and thought-provoking play, full of enriching sports metaphors and surprises about life, trauma, and adversity. The twist is that the sport is chess and the matches are as thrilling as the seventh game of the World Series or an NCAA Final Four game. The first act ends with a gripping chess match cliffhanger, and the intermission seems almost too long for us to have to wait to learn the match’s outcome.
The play takes place in Washington Square Park in New York City. The sparse but fitting set consists of park benches and two chessboards, and the drama unfolds as the chess players execute their moves and discuss their lives. Playwright Cándido Tirado develops rich and unexpected back-stories for the five very different characters, providing them with many poetic lines about chess and life. Cash, the expert chess hustler who needs to quickly earn extra money to buy a birthday present for his son; John, an émigré from Belarus; Jerome, of Comanche heritage; and Ninety-Two, a Holocaust survivor; they are all frequent denizens of the park and observers of the chess games. A new character, Rey, joins the group, also a survivor of a massacre in Guatemala. The primary tension in the play revolves around chess games between Cash and Rey, and as they play, the characters reveal how they have had to learn to deal with past traumas. It is especially touching when Ninety-Two shares his real name, and the other characters recognize him as a fellow human being, and literally, not just a number.
The actors inhabit their roles superbly and effortlessly. Shawn Randall is impeccable as Cash, an expert at New York Times crossword puzzles, as well as an intellectual who was a victim of racism in academic life. Gardiner Comfort assumes the role of John flawlessly, complete with a seemingly authentic Belarus accent. Ed Setrakian, sympathetic as a Holocaust survivor, is captivating as he slowly reveals his tragic past. José Joaquín Pérez ideally portrays the loyal family man, Rey, who is also infuriating; we find ourselves cheering him on, but then agonizing about his choices. David Anzuelo sensitively takes on the role of the thoughtful Jerome.
If you enjoy theater that explores relationships, then you’ll definitely enjoy Fish Men. And you’ll never look at the people who play those sidewalk chess games the same way again.
Fish Men, presented by INTAR Theatre, 500 52nd Street, through Saturday, March 18, 2017. By Cándido Tirado. Directed by Lou Moreno; scenic design by Raul Abrego; lighting design by Christopher J. Cancel-Pomales; costume design by Meghan E. Healey; sound design by Jesse Mandapat. Cast: David Anzuelo (Jerome), Gardiner Comfort (John), José Joaquín Pérez (Rey), Shawn Randall (Cash), and Ed Setrakian (Ninety-Two).
Cover: Jose Joaquin Perez (Rey), Shawn Randall (Cash), and Gardiner Comfort (John) in ‘Fish Men;’ photo: Carol Rosegg.