The new comedy by and starring Seinfield and Curb Your Enthusiasm writer Larry David, Fish in the Dark, is full of laughs, but the overall feel is one of an extended sitcom. This is a show for aficionados of the two TV classics as was evident by the legions of Larry David fans at the performance I attended. His entrance on to the stage was greeted with glee and sustained applause.
The comedy follows a dysfunctional family as the patriarch of the group, Sidney Drexel, lies dying in a hospital bed. The bickering, and jokes, come fast and furious as members of the extended family come to pay their last respects. Just before he passes on Sidney asks one of his sons, Norman, played by Larry David; and Arthur, played by Ben Shenkman, to look after their mother after he is gone. The problem is with his last gasp who did their father actually look at while making his request? Neither of the two want mom at home. More arguing, more laughs with nothing being settled.
At the shiva, the Jewish ritual where mourners gather to pay their respects to the family, more quarrelling and bickering. In addition, Norman’s maid, formerly employed by his parents, reveals some shocking news, which propels the second half of the show. In the next scene, mom moves in with Norman (he lost the battle), which thoroughly upsets his wife, Brenda, played by Rita Wilson. More hiijinks, but lesser laughs until we end up back in the hospital where hatchets are buried. Sort of.
The cast of Fish in the Dark is game for whatever Larry David throws at them. Mr. David, by his own admission, is not an actor and his schtick gets a little tiring by the end of the production. Ben Shenkman, as brother Arthur, is laid back, self-centered and a suitable sparring partner with Larry David. Rita Wilson’s Brenda is sufficiently discontented and vexed with her new living arrangements, but she is used more as a foil for the playwright’s jokes. Rosie Perez is feisty and scrappy as the maid with the dark family secret. Jane Houdyshell plays Mr. David’s mother with just the right amount of Jewish guilt and annoyance. In smaller roles Lewis J. Stadlen, as the overly loud and obnoxious, Stewie Drexel; and Marylouise Burke and Kenneth Tigar as disagreeable and whiny cousins Rose and Harry Kanter add a welcome spark to the production.
Director Anna Shapiro molds the script, with all its shenanigans, into a serviceable piece of comedic theater. Her role is more to keep the antics on stage from spilling over to utter chaos, which she does with a self-confident hand.
Fish in the Dark, for the true Larry David fans.