SoHo Review: "Fish in the Dark"

A wry, funny work from the creator of “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

In Fish in the Dark, Larry David has written a wry, well-observed comedy populated with vain, self-involved characters who work overtime to deceive and otherwise annoy each other.  In other words, he has written a cross between his two hit TV shows, “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Though far from perfect, David’s craft has never been put to better use. And, to gild this ragged lily, he, himself, is starring in it, long with some of the finest comic actors around.  Fish in the Dark—a reference to an unsuccessful dinner party—takes internecine battles to sublimely ridiculous heights.  

Norman Drexel (David), a urinal salesman, is called to the hospital bed of his dying father, Sidney (Jerry Adler, who makes the most of what amounts to a cameo), joined by his slick, successful lawyer brother, Arthur (Ben Shenkman).  Sidney’s dying wish is that one of the brothers will take in his wife, their mother, the awe-inspiringly self-centered Gloria (Jayne Houdyshell) after his death.  Sidney dies on cue, but not before feeling up married Arthur’s gorgeous date, Michelle (Jenn Lyon, who thankfully never descends to bimbo-land), riling vain Arthur no end.  
 
The trouble is no one can figure out which brother he was looking at when he made the bothersome request, even though the hospital room was filled to the brim with greedy, griping relatives:  Sidney’s screeching sister, Rose (Marylouise Burke at her daffy best), her grasping husband Harry (Kenneth Tigar) and Sidney’s brother Stewie (a hilarious, perfectly irritating Lewis J. Stadlen).
 
The rest of the show takes Gloria’s arrival at chez Norman as the catalyst to emotional epiphanies, near divorces, the revelation of a love child, bizarre schemes to get rid of mom and loads and loads of cat fights over Rolex’s.   The plot is complicated by the entrance of Fabiana Melendez (a drole, delightfully ditzy Rosie Perez) who was Arthur and Gloria’s housekeeper and Arthur’s paramour.  She reveals a dark secret, a teenage son, Diego (Jack Cannavale, absolutely marvelous in his Broadway debut) who looks very much like a young Arthur, a fact which Norman uses to great comic effect.  Brenda (a totally solid Rita Wilson), Norman’s long-suffering wife hates Gloria and threatens to divorce him if Gloria isn’t sent forthwith to Arthur’s house.   
 
The irritations and plot twists irritate and twist until a very funny ending with a black-out line that easily rivals Joe E. Brown’s in “Some Like It Hot” (“Nobody’s perfect!”).
 
All the actors are in on the joke.  Anna D. Shapiro’s direction keeps plotlines from colliding and the cast from tripping over Todd Rosenthal’s extravagant scenery.  Ann Roth’s costumes are well observed and the tinkling musical score by David Yazbeck adds to the comic ambiance.
 
A running visual joke, a projection of a California death certificate with its blanks gradually filled in, keeps the play flowing along during the many scenery changes, but it is just one gimmick among many in this uproarious “laff riot.”
 
Through June 7, 2015
Cort Theater
138 West 48th St. (between 6th & 7th Avenues)
New York, NY
Tickets:  212-239-6200 or www.fishinthedark.com 
Running time:  2 hours, one intermission
Filed under: