Jeune Lune's "Fishtank" is bubbly fun (but watch for life's big questions floating by)

By anne
February 17, 2008 - 01:36.

Last night I accompanied a friend to Theatre de la Juene Lune for a performance called Fishtank. No one ever says they’re going to a play at Jeune Lune, even though it’s a theater in which actors tread the boards. It is always a performance. That’s because Jeune Lune’s work often defies categorization—which is the beauty of it. Hard to explain, though. I might be best off saying, “Go. Dive in. See what you think.” But I do like to render my opinion, so here’s a bit of seaweed to chew on.

First of all, I liked Fishtank. Someone at the pre-show reception said they’d heard it was a slapstick comedy. Ugh. Slapstick appeals to me like saltwater tea. My friend saw me look at my watch, then glance at the exit. “No, I heard it’s more like theater of the absurd,” she interjected, steering me toward a bowl of tail-on shrimp.

Not everyone agrees with me about Fishtank. Click here for my debate with Jay Gabler, arts editor of Twin Cities Daily Planet.

As it turns out, Fishtank is a lot like watching kids inventing games on a playground, except that the characters are spouting existentialist dialogue.

In the opening scene, everyone passes through a metal detector without incident. Later, for reasons unknown, Harry (Nathan Keepers) sets off beep after beep despite shedding layer after layer of clothing. Finally he’s naked, and is led into a sauna by de facto governess Coco Sawatsiripon (Jennifer Baldwin Peden). “Maybe your problem isn’t on the outside; maybe it’s on the inside,” suggest Jules and Jim (Dominique Serrand, Steven Epp) to an anxious Harry.

Throughout the one-act program, characters explore questions about what’s inside and what’s outside of ourselves, and where something is when you can’t find it, and whether it’s worth finding anyway. What do we find precious? For Jim, it’s his wallet. Coco fawns over a dying rose and then a strangely animated bowling ball. I thought of my son and my dog.

What’s more important: the familiar and comfortable, or the new and intriguing? From which can we best learn: the past of a thing, or its potential? These are questions worth asking in relation to all nouns, whether person, place, object or idea.

Fishtank is amusing enough to have kept the audience giggling, and direct enough to have delivered some pearls of wisdom. Having tried to fix a wobbly table that stops wobbling when left alone, Jules quips, “Sometimes we want to make problems when there are no problems.”

Mostly I interpreted Fishtank as a study of boundaries. Boundaries made, observed, and broken. Against a set comprising elements of airport, aquarium, and archaeological dig, the characters challenge the boundaries of time, space, and identity by pointing them out. When a boundary doesn’t make sense, it is removed. When there is need for a wall, one is constructed—even if it’s just to keep idle hands busy.

My favorite scene is the one in which Coco joins Harry in the sauna, which has become an aquarium. Strapping rubber fins onto her feet, she passes through a glass door from cement stairs into an underwater world, bobbing and weaving so convincingly that I caught myself thinking, “How long will she be able to hold her breath?”

Although there is dialogue, Fishtank is more about visuals and textures—hands, feet and torsos interacting with slippery floors, bricks, sand, water, toilet tissue, a bowling ball. Sounds from a portable radio, a cell phone, and a TV also figure in. As one might expect from a Jeune Lune event, this doesn’t feel like a play. It’s so visceral, it feels more like an alternately carefree and self-conscious dance.

Fishtank plays through March 22 at Theatre de la Jeune Lune, 105 N. 1st Street, Minneapolis. Click here for tickets.

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