Great acting and sharp dialogue keep heavy subject matter afloat in John Kolvenbach's portrait of children and parents.
Turning into one’s parents is up there with snakes and spiders on the list of people’s greatest fears. But it can also be found alongside death and taxes on the list of life’s greatest inevitabilities. The parents in John Kolvenbach’s Goldfish are people that no one would want to become. In its Chicago premiere, courtesy of director Damon Kiely and Route 66 Theatre Company, the play sometimes feels like a Greek tragedy, just with genes taking the place of fate.
Goldfish begins with a promise from gambling addict Leo (Francis Guinan) to his college-bound son Albert (Alex Stage) that he will follow Albert’s strict planned budget. Leo knows he has a problem, and Guinan handles the character’s sharp emotional turns with the ease of a Grand Prix master. At school, Albert falls in love with his classmate Lucy (Tyler Meredith); her blunt awkwardness nestles sweetly up against his own. When Leo inevitably blows the tuition money, Albert has to scramble. What to do with a dad who is unfixable?
Kolvenbach’s dialogue is an oddball delight. His characters don’t enter sentences through the front door. They enter them sideways, through the kitchen window. And those sentences sound best in the mouth of Shannon Cochran as Lucy’s mother, Margaret, whose bitter barbs and pearl necklace and florid hangovers seem air-lifted in from an Edward Albee play in the best possible way. As tragic as many of the moments in Goldfish are, the fact that Cochran and Guinan never share a scene is perhaps the greatest tragedy of all.
Route 66 Theatre. By John Kolvenbach. Directed by Damon Kiely. With Francis Guinan, Alex Stage, Tyler Meredith, Shannon Cochran. Running time: 1hr 25mins; no intermission.