Thursday July 20th 2017

“Fish Men”

Highly Recommended*****When we look at people walking down the street, sitting in a restaurant, the theater or in fact just living their lives, do we wonder what their story is? For the most part, we just view them as part of the scenery that we call life. The old man sitting in the park feeding the pigeons- why is he sitting there? What is his story? In  Candido  Tirado’s “Fish Men”, now onstage at The Goodman Theatre ( Owen) we are taken to Washington Park in New York, a place where many men make their living playing chess.  This is a joint venture with Teatro Vista, the second in a series of three new works by Latino playwrights and is an amazing story. One filled with comedy and heartfelt tragedy as we spend an afternoon, a hot, steamy afternoon watching stories unfold, taking us deep into the lives of these men.

Directed to perfection by Edward Torres in the intimate Owen Theater, we truly feel that we are in the park as observers on this very special day. The theater is one that can be reshaped for each production and in this one, is arena style so we are viewing the action from all angles. The set by Collette Pollard is very realistic with Chess tables, benches, garbage cans, a working drinking fountain and of course walls made of shrubs. We feel as if we are in fact, peering over the shrubs and watching the action take place. As the lights come up, we watch several of the “Urban Chess Players” preparing for their day and hopeful that they will find “fish” to hustle. The three main hustlers are  John ( a Russian), PeeWee ( an African American) and Cash ( an African American). The fourth man is Jerome ( an American Indian). Sitting on a bench, asleep and older man known as Ninety-Two). Each has chess as part of their lives, some past, some present and as the story unfolds, we learn a great deal about their lives and what has brought them to be in the park.

As they talk about Chess and the “marks” ( Fish) they are hoping will come to the park, a young man, well dressed, carrying a brief case enters the park. This young man as we will soon learn, is Rey Reyes ( deftly handles by Raul Castillo, who seems hesitant at first, but becomes stronger as the story progresses). Rey is in the park, supposedly to meet Stuart , a money lender ( Daniel Cantor) who bailed out his Uncle Bernie on the previous day, after losing all his money to these hustlers. What we learn about Rey is that he is a survivor of the Guatemalan genocide and is going through his own personal problems, but feels the need to take care of his uncle Bernie.

Not wanting to give away the intrigue and mystery that Tirado brings to this story, I will only tell you that the chess game does go on and it is not only the game of chess on the board that we witness, but the chess game of man’s inhumanity to man and the reasons that each of these men are where they are and who they are.Each of the players is obsessed with the game itself and in some cases the power of being a chess master. Jerome, the Indian ( played to perfection by Ricardo Gutierrez) is a caring man, who enjoys the game and is not a pure hustler like the others.  John, the Russian ( Mike Cherry in a powerful performance lives for the game and of course the money he earns by playing) PeeWee ( Kenn E. Head who has a knack for comic timing) and Cash ( brilliantly played by Cedric Mays) also has a story that shows his true darkness and why he is in the park.

The onlooker to all this, Ninety-Two /Adam Kirchbaum ( Howard Witt, who shows why he is truly an icon among Chicago actors) was also a chess master in Germany and a survivor of the Concentration Camps. His story is deeply moving and his character is one that changes and alters what takes place in the lives of the other chess players in this marvelous and spell-binding story. The other two characters in this amazing ensemble are Daniel Cantor as Stuart, who is also a player/fish, but knows that if he can just beat these players once, he will be complete and Dr. Lee ( Gordon Chow) another player who desires to beat these guys, just once.

The chess matches are well executed and appear to be accurate. I played a little chess in college, but never at the speed that is played in this production, but don’t try to figure out if they are playing properly, as what they are saying is far more important and the way that Torres brings this story to life, allowing us to laugh, smile and cry as all of the stories are unveiled. During the matches, we find ourselves rooting for the young Rey and in fact at one point an entire audience applauded a “mate” call! Talk about an audience getting involved in a story! Tirado himself is a chess master and so he was involved with the chess choreography along with Ben Chang ( so it is very possible that each move is indeed perfect) and Mark ViaFranco is the Chess Captain ( this is something we very seldom see in a program credit).

The lighting ( Jesse Klug),sound ( Mikhail Fiksel) and costumes ( Christine Pascual) are the icing on the cake for this slick production that while over 2 hours and twenty five minutes in length seems much faster. This is definitely one to put on your “must see” list. “Fish Men” will continue at The Goodman located at 170 N. Dearborn Street, through May 6th with performances as follows:

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday evenings at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m.  Saturday and Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m.

Tickets range from $12-$42 ( a very affordable price for a show of this quality) and can be purchased by visiting the box office, by phone at 312-443-3800 or online at www.GoodmanTheatre.org

Day of show discounts ( subject to availability  10TIX ( $10 for students) and MEZZTIX ( half price mezzanine)

Want to learn more about Teatro Vists,Chicago’s largest Equity Latino Theater Company, visit www.TeatroVista.org

 

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