When Mark Rylance won his first Tony Award back in 2008 (for “Boeing-Boeing”), he confounded viewers of the award show by reciting a prose poem by Minnesota writer Louis Jenkins. And when Rylance won his second Tony Award in 2011 (for “Jerusalem”), he did the same thing.
Now Rylance (currently an Oscar nominee for “Bridge of Spies”) has formally joined forces with Jenkins for “Nice Fish,” a surreal new play co-written by the pair that is structured around Jenkins’ various short poems and is receiving its New York premiere at St. Ann’s Warehouse in DUMBO.
It is set on a frozen lake in Minnesota inhabited by two ice fishermen (played by Rylance and Jim Lichtscheidl). Jenkins himself makes a cameo appearance toward the end. Claire van Kampen, who is Rylance’s wife, serves as the director.
Jenkins’ poems are not all that different from bits of stand-up comedy. He begins with a memory or an observation of some kind, and he then ponders its relevance and relationship to nature.
The problem with the play is not all that different from anything else built from pre-existing material: the poems, despite their humorous and meditative qualities, do not offer the narrative sustenance or characterization to support a 95-minute piece of theater, leaving it fragmented, uneventful and generally unsatisfying.
Rylance, who is a wonderfully mercurial and inventive actor, is full of oddball and gentle expressions, while his companion remains firmly fixated on the activity at hand. Considering their contrasting dynamic and how little occurs, “Nice Fish” is essentially “Waiting for Godot” on a frozen lake.
If you go
“Nice Fish” plays at St. Ann’s Warehouse through March 27. 45 Water St., stannswarehouse.org.