The publicity for Know Theatre’s production of Steve Yockey’s 2012 play, The Fisherman’s Wife, is a bit of a spoiler about what’s in store, announcing that it’s “a sex farce with sea creatures.”
If you missed the show’s poster or any other promotional material and settled in for the opening scene, you’d think you walked into a high-charged but rather predictable domestic drama, an argument between a fisherman and his unhappy, unsatisfied wife. But before long, a note of oddness creeps in as you learn that Vanessa Minnow (Miranda McGee) and Cooper Minnow (Cal Harris) are almost literally small fish, with lives that now stink like, well, day-old fish.
Unsatisfied with movie star magazines and their stark seaside shack, Vanessa passes her tipping point when Cooper readies for another fruitless fishing mission. She shrieks, “I was bamboozled by the man I thought you were.” Their clash escalates; he storms off. At this point any shred of predictability evaporates as the story wanders into Yockey’s world of wild fantasy. (His play Pluto, produced by Know in 2014, featured a possessed refrigerator that was a portal to the underworld.)
Vanessa is visited by suave Thomas (James Creque), a self-described “alternatively attractive salesman” of whatever it takes to make one feel better. His spiel about “the joys of living in a seaside town” becomes more tongue-in-cheek with each iteration. But Vanessa takes it hook, line and sinker and enthusiastically samples his wares.
Meanwhile, beneath the fishing dock, Cooper encounters a strange young man and woman who have stolen his anchor. Played by Eileen Earnest and Andrew Ian Adams, they are dressed in old-fashioned bathing attire from a century ago and speak in unison. It’s quickly apparent that they aren’t what they seem to be, and we soon learn she’s actually a squid and he’s an octopus. It’s also evident that they are, shall we say, oversexed.
Thomas’ bag of wares contains a work of “tentacle porn,” a reproduction of an actual 19th-century woodcut by Katsushika Hokusai, “The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife.” In it, a pair of octopi are “pleasuring” a woman. Vanessa is turned on by it, and it’s Yockey’s core inspiration for this play. Accordingly, Squid and Octopus have their nasty way with Cooper (thankfully offstage), who returns home in a daze to discover Vanessa and Thomas in a compromising state. Vanessa decides she needs to seek revenge on the sea creatures, and then it’s time for intermission.
The opening night audience, full of folks fresh from the “weirdness” of the 2016 Cincinnati Fringe Festival, was fully engaged in the show’s deliriously silly hilarity.
The second act offered a kind of déjà vu, as Cooper visits Thomas and Vanessa has her own encounter with the cephalopods. The cathartic experience of the couple has dissipated their ennui and turned on the flames of passion again — so, as in any good sex farce, order is restored.
Staged by Know’s artistic director Andrew Hungerford, The Fisherman’s Wife is clearly an exercise in absurdity. He’s assembled a cast that dives in headfirst and doesn’t really come up for air until it’s over. McGee, a versatile comic performer, captures Vanessa’s over-the-top desperation, and her able timing makes the back-and-forth with her hapless husband all the more amusing. Harris, a newcomer to Know’s mainstage productions, keeps up and does a fine job with Yockey’s amusing dialogue.
Creque plays Thomas with a knowing glint in his eye and an understated manner that’s deceptively charming — perhaps even “alternatively attractive.”
Earnest and Adams keep the humor bubbling with their knowing winks and suggestive fluttering hands. There’s a big hint that they’re siblings, with touches of brother-sister annoyance and a strong whiff of inappropriateness to their lewd advances.
The Fisherman’s Wife is not a show for everyone, but it certainly tickled the funny bone of the audience on opening night. It’s being performed in Know’s curtained-off Underground Bar with theater seating for about 75, nicely arranged for good sight lines.
THE FISHERMAN’S WIFE, presented by Know Theatre of Cincinnati, continues through July 16. Tickets/more info: knowtheatre.com.