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Stolen Kisses

And Love-Starved Characters in This Lively Consideration of Desires

Wendy Gaunt and Elliott Rauh check each other out.

By John Barry | Posted 10/15/2008

Food for Fish

By Adam Szymkowicz

At Single Carrot Theatre through Oct. 26

Where do our dreams go when we're done with them? In Adam Szymkowicz's two-act play, the title supplies the answer. Less a play than a multilayered fishbowl, Food for Fish sprinkles dreams across the water--of sex, identity, love, literary greatness--and a love-starved group of characters gobbles them up one after another. Somehow, by the end, they all appear to be grabbing for the same thing.

We see this somewhat chaotic, gender-unspecific world through the eyes of a Russian lit major (with a minor in gender roles) who, tapping away at his old-school typewriter, has created a world that's roughly based on Chekhov's Three Sisters. Three women, all thirsty for something, are trapped in their apartment-bubble with their dead father in a coffin next to them.

After seeing four plays this season in Baltimore in which the main character hogs the spotlight with his typewriter, I was a little dubious. Two things proved me wrong: first, a typically enthusiastic, professional performance by the Single Carrot ensemble. And second, despite the lame conceit, Szymkowicz is a gifted young playwright with an imagination on overdrive. So the sins of excess may just be part of that.

The plot is almost impossible to follow. It is supposed to be a piece on gender roles, complete with cross-dressing, but it doesn't quite go there. Like Chekhov's characters, these are all locked in their (metaphorical) provincial estates, itching to get out but never able to make the plunge. Dexter (played with finesse by Eileen del Valle) is a hapless bespectacled weenie who is pursued by horny women. He is trying to escape the clutches of his nymphomaniac boss, Sasha (Wendy Gaunt). He is also trying to avoid having the stuffing squeezed out of him by his desperately unsatisfied wife, Barbara (Aldo Pantoja). And if that's not enough, his wife's sister Alice (Karen Landry), is a doctor whose relationships rarely get past the point where she swabs her dates and gets them to give her blood samples. Sylvia (Jessica Garrett) is a younger sister and journalist trying to pursue the story of a Manhattan serial kisser.

Along with a fishpond of sorts at the foot of the cleverly constructed stage, the plot hinges on kisses themselves. It's not clear exactly what it is about gender that Szymkowicz is trying to communicate, except that it's a complicated way for anyone to identify him or herself. Maybe that's just as well, as this play involves sex-starved, repressed people, circling around the fish food, waiting to nibble.

It's all about hunger, and director Genevieve deMahy, along with the Single Carrot ensemble, projects that in a high-energy, constantly moving production. Landry plays Alice as a sort of stiff, strait-laced scientist who seems to be exploding with unreleased longing. As Barbara (and also as James, a disastrous blind date), Pantoja takes on the cross-dressing duties without being jokey or winking at the audience; if it's a funny performance, it's also one that leads us to take Barbara's own desires seriously. Meanwhile, the men at the center of the play are largely blank spots. Del Valle's Dexter is nugatory and zipless, but del Valle also hints that he's exploding with his own frustrations--which may be why he has turned into a weird sexual magnet for all these women.

As Bobbie, Elliot Rauh has arguably the toughest role--his character spends most of his time clattering away at the typewriter and probably a little too much time talking to the audience. Rauh negotiates that well, however, and injects enough passion in it to turn Bobbie into a fascinating and contradictory character.

Going through an extended reprisal of the plot would be beside the point. The effect is more atmospheric, in a world where story lines are driven by gunshots and kisses. (Bobbie creates a "stalker" who wanders up to strangers and kisses them on the lips. And instead of taking coffee breaks, he pulls his pistol out of the drawer and stares down the barrel. Since this is inspired by Chekhov, we know that gun will get used sometime.) Szymkowicz and Single Carrot truly offer a plate of characters and a tribute to the powers and the prisons that we live in as we desperately try to find dates, sneak kisses, get published, and work magic.

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