Asheville, NC – The blackest paint in the world was invented in 2014. Its name is Vantablack “Fish,” the new play at The Magnetic Theatre, isn’t just a black comedy—it’s vantablack.
From the witty, acerbic writing to the incomparable cast to the stellar direction by Ashleigh Goff, this show is 75 minutes of laughter, shock, sorrow, vulnerability, and humanity.
So much humanity—gut-punching, bewildering humanity.
Some productions of shows are safe and steady. They push the audience just enough and “invite them” to feel the emotions conveyed on the stage. I do not discount the need for that type of art.
Fish, spawned from the brain of Austin, TX, playwright Cyndi Williams, doesn’t nudge gracefully. It is a body check from lights up to the final curtain. We are not merely asked to feel something; we are shoved into it all with full force.
Dealing with themes of self-loathing, survival, abuse, narcissism, mental illness, the primal need for human connectedness, and even the plight of the service industry worker. This play did it all, and they did it in less than an hour and a half.
Often, a show like this would be compared to a roller coaster, with all its emotional ups and downs. For me, it resembled an EKG. Sharp, unexpected spikes of humor coming out of deep plunges of that Vantablack emotion.
While I will not offer any spoilers, I will say that Jason Phillips and Paula O’Brien were riveting as two utterly fractured people, each handling trauma in their own way.
The transformations from beginning to end were deftly nuanced and took me by surprise at each turn. Their characters unfold as intricately as an origami paper crane.
After the performance, I spoke to Morgan Miller because her achingly effective portrayal was one that I could not shake. I was concerned she would be unable to leave it on the stage. And while she is able to slip out of that person, I am certain I will carry her in my brain for quite some time.
Lilly Mills dispensed many of those spikes of hilarity. Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly laugh, her deadpan delivery would catch me off-guard and pull a deafening “ha!” from somewhere deep inside me.
I don’t know how many characters are in “Fish,” but Evan Eckstrom plays most of them.
To me, he slipped into each one as effortlessly as he changed into a new costume. It is said that there are no small roles, and Evan’s performance absolutely supports that. Each person he was onstage was essential, and his injections of humor were remarkable and necessary.
Fish, named one of the ten best plays in Dallas, TX, upon its original release, has been included in the New York Fringe Festival as well as being performed as staged readings around the country. When I asked if this work takes on a new life with each production, author Cyndi Williams replied, “I really believe when you have a piece of art out in the world, you need to let it toddle off by itself and not try and control the audience’s response to it.”
In talking about the physical changes made during this run, she added, “I wasn’t sure how transitions would work. This is such a small stage… All of the locations were supposed to exist simultaneously, and you can’t really do that here, but I thought the director’s (Ashleigh Goff) choices with the… transitions were very clear and very beautiful.”
I absolutely agree with her on that. This is not a linear story, nor is it traditional in how and when the actors will command our attention. There are often multiple things happening simultaneously, although this did not hinder the audience from easily following the story.
And it’s a story you do not want to miss.
Fish runs through April 29th, with performances on Thursdays, Fridays, & Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 4 p.m.
For more information, visit TheMagneticTheatre.org.