The Bay Area Premiere of “Goldfish” is a gritty and heart wrenching study by playwright John Kolvenbach into the bonds that unite us as fathers, mothers, sons and daughters and what happens when change threatens them.
Leo (Rod Gnapp) is the father to a loving teenage son, Albert (Andrew Pastides). Within the four walls of a small kitchen, we learn the complex relationship they have.
Leo is a retiree who squanders every last cent of his pension and more on his addictions to gambling and alcohol. We recognize that Leo is aware of his condition; he says goldfish are so stupid, given the opportunity, they will eat and eat until they burst.
Throughout the play, some of the most captivating lines are the ones Leo delivers in the Rod Gnapp-style I so enjoy, on the nature of animals. These stories are juxtaposed with key points in the play and, like Aesop’s tales, deliver concentrated commentary on human nature. Leo is not a complete write-off as a human being because through drawn-out silences, loving acts such as pouring a glass of milk for his son, Leo demonstrates remorse for actions he cannot control amidst deep love for his son Albert.
Albert, who has taken care of his dad and has held a job since twelve, is the epitome of all we wish our children to be. If he has one fault, perhaps it is that he is willing to sacrifice pleasures and success in his own life in order to take care of his father. Some of the most humorous lines come when Alber,t who has had little experience, asks a girl out. The scene where Albert and Lucy (Anna Bullard) are in bed and Albert begins to read out the list of imperfections he has written about Lucy is heartwarming if a bit idealistic.
What would these two men be in this play if they were not balanced by equality complex female characters. Enter Margaret (Patricia Hodges), Lucy’s mother and of course, Lucy the girlfriend of Albert. Lucy is brash, sleeps in late, makes martinis and can be found with cigarette in hand. Whereas Albert and Leo are contrasts of each other, Lucy and her mother Margaret are analogous creatures. I could easily see Lucy being a Margaret with a few decades passing.
In some ways one thinks Margaret and Leo could have been married to each other at one time. Patricia speaks of her good for nothing ex-husband who couldn’t hold a job and got drunk all the time. Leo speaks of a wife who was too good for him and somehow he was able to slip past, marry her and then tried to hold on as tight as he could.
A lot is said in this play, however, it is what is unsaid that is most powerful. All four actors are able to rise to the occasion to convey poignant pain and love through all that is unspoken.
The ending is climatic and redeeming without being a cliche. I loved the antelope and lion analogy and in the end Leo wonders if the answer to what if children stay with us is worse than his fear of abandonment.
A goldfish is a goldfish. Just as an antelope is an antelope. We are who we are. Changing is hard, maybe impossible. But there are glimmers of hope. When the superb Rod Gnapp as Leo sees himself in his son, he steps in with a brutal decision that he hopes will change the course of family history.
John Kolvenbach’s play establishes a believable tone through straight dialog—sometimes quirky—and honest characters who do what they must, in spite of their imperfections (#1… #2… #3…).
Set changes themselves become mini scenes such as when Albert (Andrew Pastides) changes into a suit, channeling John Travolta’s swagger, while looking into a mirror somewhere in the audience. Before you know it, we’re transformed into the living room of Margaret’s (Patricia Hodges with a dash of Mrs. Robinson) apartment.
Another winner from Magic Theatre. Rod Gnapp is captivating once again, likable despite his gambling, aimless ways. A graduate of ACT, he is an actor not to be missed.
The drama unfolds quietly with laughs along the way, before the final scenes deliver the thunder and angst we sense brewing all along. Highly recommended.
- The Blue Angels air show provided some bonus sound effects as acrobatic planes zipped all over the SF Marina just a block away from Fort Mason; it added some texture to the play that somehow seemed appropriate
- We always enjoy going to see Rod Gnapp; he is one of those actors that can steal a show, and elevate the entire production; we last saw him at Awake and Sing at Aurora in Berkeley, and Mauritius, also at Magic Theatre
- The sequel to Goldfish, Mrs. Whitney, is ready to go and can be seen later this month at Magic, also available in a double-header
- Anna Bullard, who I find very likable, delivers another fine performance; this time though she doesn’t have to carry the burden of thousands of lines of Shakespearean dialog as she did in the San Jose Rep’s modern take on As You Like It—and all as a woman!
A heartbreaking comedy by John Kolvenbach
Magic Theatre, San Francisco
October 7 – November 8