One unique part about attending a play at St. Ann’s Warehouse is the stroll down Water Street looking onto a lit up Brooklyn Bridge. Given New York generally bustles along so consistently it can feel soft and other-worldly; which is not a bad state to engage with when going to believe a piece of fiction come to life!
In my attendance of the American Repertory Theatre’s NICE FISH at St. Ann’s Warehouse yesterday, a new play by Mark Rylance and a collaborator poet/playwright Louis Jenkins, I reserved best efforts to sit in my house left back row seat with quiet resolve to innocently spy on the work of a beloved actor that I’m dying to collaborate with one day.
As I was one of the first to slip away down the stairs after the 95 minute play I think I may have gone unnoticed (at least my obsession). I did notice that I was changed! I was specifically enthralled with the ability to “stitch together [poems and passages] like an old American quilt of beloved garments, each one bearing a piece of history, an experience.” (as Rylance put it in his A Word or Two of Welcome…)
This play is unique in that the text itself is comprised of a series of prose poems by Louis Jenkins who noted that putting this play together was like a “jigsaw puzzle… except that there were extra pieces and places continually shifted.” Being a person that is daily fueled by poems this play simply solidified my not-such-a-secret-anymore-and-I’m-not-the-only-one need to watch Rylance collaborate! As he put it:
This play is, truly, a collaboration between all the actors [Kayli Carter, Raye Birk, Mark Rylance, Bob Davis, Jim Lichtscheidl], a poet, a playwright, a director [Claire Van Kampen], the stage managers and designers, and now you, the audience and spectators.
In this playful show I was formally introduced to the prose poems of Louis Jenkins who described his discovery that his poems didn’t need to sit alone by watching a YouTube clip of Rylance humorously reciting one for a Best Actor Tony Award. And so the collaboration ensued… leading towards Nice Fish.
Now it’s not a conventional play. I’ll just put that boldly out into the blog-sphere. The characters make relevant conversations and thoughts that seem to swirl in and out of their consciousness far into a Midwest winter. In that sense an absurd quality surfaces throughout the play and even a fourth wall break give the sense that ‘all the world’s a stage’.
What struck me is that with prose poetry the language seems to fit within the characters’ world. Unlike the use of more metrical and rhythmic poems that would tend to become interludes and transitions (minus Shakespeare of course)… these prose poems became the characters’ own words and hence choices to communicate with each other and express their ideas, annoyances, senses of humor etc.
According to Van Kampen the “component” of time is noticeable in the play because there becomes a consciousness of the fact that there are things above the ice and hidden below the ice… “the fullness of [the characters’] psyche has time to emerge and confront them.” while confronting nature.
In using the poems as methods to communicate the activities of the characters such as fishing, building a tent or simply standing on the ice confronting nature the activities became secondary to the inner life of the characters. Possibly even obstacles to the characters being able to either talk about what they were feeling, or affect the other character in some way. Seemingly ‘ordinary’ lives of some Midwesterners became active through the prose by reminding each other of old crushes, debts due and by making each other laugh while avoiding the numbing sensation of the cold.
One particular moment where ice unexpectedly melted was when the young girl, Flo (Carter), who doesn’t seem to know much of loss yet recites a poem that effectively reminds everyone else around her that there is an entrance into a dark lake of feeling that normally must stay relatively covered up. It was like the characters around her could hear the ice creaking underneath their feet but didn’t want to show her that elaborating on their losses could result in them all slipping under the ice at any moment if not careful or quiet… instead her guardian pats her on the head to hint that she is loved beyond expression.
Beyond expression… it’s funny that poems and plays are elaborate efforts to express human experiences and yet it ends up being the moments where our language (spoken or non-verbal) is limited that are most interesting. Every so often there’s a collective pause and understanding of a mysterious connection to everyone and everything that is just beyond our expressions.
Except maybe the expression of Rylance’s character Ron as a talking snowman – a talking snowman reminding ice fishing humans about global warming captures it all.
Okay I’m off to use my gathered intelligence to figure out how to incorporate poetry of all sorts into my daily communicative efforts and expressions. Like maybe this free verse:
…but looking back
bright and true
but held onto