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Fish in the Desert

IU's intimate T-300 Theatre is closing in fine style with a delightfully engaging production of MFA candidate Angeline Larimer's play "Fish in the Desert." Jared Porter's set for the first act is a seedy bar in Green Valley, Arizona. If you go to the show, get there at least fifteen minutes early because actor Duncan Teater as Willy the organ man, and the waitress of the "Cow Palace" get things started with free pretzels, non alcoholic drinks, and a Beetles' Night sing along. Teater's routine will remind you a little of Bill Murray's turn as an irritating and only moderately talented lounge artist, but Teater–who both sings well enough and badly enough–puts his own stamp on the action.

The title, "Fish in the Desert," comes from a scene in the play where a Michigan transplant to Arizona insists on fish and is forcefully told not to order "fish in the desert." The Michigan transplant, a retiree seeking a healthful climate, played by A.J. Heston is just one of the play's out of place "fish." The retiree's dogged wife played by Kate Braun is nearly as lost as he is. She fights to keep her husband on a heart healthy diet in a land of meat and Margueritas. Their grand-daughter, played by Wendy Gaunt, is so adrift with her career as a labor negotiator that she's considering becoming a nun.

The spunky Mexican waitress of the Cow Palace, played by Eliza Hart, is in good command of her job, but the aims of this fish are definitely away from retail dining and eating and toward marriage and children. Her choice of Mexican husband material doesn't swim very well at all. He's the hapless cook and occasional floater of get rich schemes, played with great physical expressive physical gestures by Brian Levin.

It would seem that the two natives Arizonians would be the easiest and least fishy of the lot, but they have their own discomforts. Jonathan Molitor was always on key as the cactus poacher Jojo Erp. Jo Jo is a failed husband, a failed father and a marginal businessman, but his cool rough bravado is mostly in tact. Darby Cicci was Jo Jo's son. The son feels him self such a fish in the desert anglo culture that he looks for roots in anthropology and native ritual.

I probably should mention actor David Guess, but I'm not sure how to work in a character who is drunk in town and dressed up as a cactus in the desert.

The first act of "Fish in the Desert" introduces us to all of Angeline Larimer's interesting characters. It's a nicely put together piece and the direction by Steve Decker neatly handles the shifting focus into and out of the groups. The warm spirit of the sing along nicely carried through.

Frankly, the second act is a disappointment, but even in Shakepeare the wrap up is often less involving than the introduction. A night in the desert and some peyote mushrooms serve as the nexus for the proper sorting out of the lovers and the administration of justice. There are some good gags and surprises along with what's pretty much expected, but there's nothing like the sustained theatrical magic of the first act with Willy presiding over Beetles' Night at the Cow Palace.

"Fish in the Desert" by Angeline Larimer is the closing production at IU's T-300. It's a worthy piece for the closer. It plays at seven each night through Saturday. In addition there is a Saturday matinee performance at two.

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