Friday night’s performance of “Big Fish” in the May Room served as an important reminder that while every story needs a good storyteller, every storyteller needs a good story.
In other words, I can’t blame the ROC Players for the lesser points of “Big Fish,” because there really wasn’t much good material in the script to work with in the first place.
“Big Fish” is about Edward Bloom (senior Casey Brentnall), an old Alabaman man who’s spent his life spinning tall tales about his youth for his son. Edward’s health worsens and his relationship with his now-adult son Will (first-year Evan Coleman) grows tense, as Will scrambles in vain to find some factual stories about his father. The play jumps from scenes of the present-day family drama to depictions of Edward’s exaggerated stories of his glory days.
It’s not a spoiler to say that the moral is that the myth can teach us more than the truth. I fancy myself a journalist, so the less said about my thoughts on that takeaway, the better. Maybe I’d be more convinced if the tall tales “Big Fish” tried to win me over with were a little more engaging as stories. (What fun is it when the hero gets his fortune told, and it’s a good fortune?)
But it’s the Players, so the Players did their damndest. And the show certainly had its high points. Brentnall’s performance and expressive singing as the attention-loving old storyteller was convincing and abrasive when necessary. First-year Maren Goldstein also deserves a shout-out for the portrayal of Sandra Bloom, Edward’s wife. In a comparatively understated performance, Goldstein brought an aged satisfaction and quiet sadness to what could have been a simple, forgettable role. (Goldstein and Brentnall were both seamlessly convincing at whichever age they were playing.) Sandra’s bittersweet, moving song “I Don’t Need a Roof” was one of the play’s best moments.
Many of the play’s better parts came when it was most visually dynamic. While the choreography and blocking was awkwardly still at times, three numbers detailing Edward’s alleged time at the circus — “Little Lamb from Alabama,” “Time Stops,” and “Closer to Her” — were vibrant in their costumes, props, lights, and choreography. (A clever slow-motion choreography bit in “Time Stops” was particularly effective and fun to look at.)
And though the tall tales fell short, the supporting performers did well in bringing memorable personality to their roles. Junior Yeonseong Catherine Seo lent stellar vocals and attitude playing a witch, and sophomore Levi Sunday-Lefkowitz was funny using stilts and an impressively deep voice to play a sensitive, good-with-numbers giant.
When given good material, good storytellers can make magic. The ROC Players have done it before, doing ample justice last year to “Cabaret” and “Bright Star.” But “Big Fish” just isn’t good material. So the Players didn’t quite fulfill their potential, but the talent and heart displayed in their attempt will be enough to bring me back next semester.