Something Fishy

Vaska Vaska, Glöm, the third show of the Yale Cabaret’s season was written by an acting student, Stéphanie Hayes, and directed by second year directing student Lileana Blain-Cruz.  Blain-Cruz directed last year’s Cab show Salome, based on the Oscar Wilde play, and I’m beginning to wonder if she has a thing about fish. In Salome, Seamus Mulcahy swallowed a live goldfish at each performance.  In Vaska, Adina Verson, as Fiska, a girl who lives in a barrel of water, chows down on a whole fish each performance, a fish seemingly raw but actually smoked.  The moment is a bit unsettling: young Fiska strains upward from her barrel, blackened teeth dismembering the meal proffered by her two guardians, Hedda (Mulcahy again, playing a woman this time) and Ulli (Sarah Sokolovic).

The two women live in some remote Scandinavian area, apparently, where they lead a simple peasant existence, washing sheets and engaging in vaguely Beckettian rituals (one involved Ulli watching a video tape of a young woman enjoying a lake, which seems to quiet Ulli’s primal angst).  Hedda clues us in on their lives by commencing a story in which a pregnant woman shows up at their door (which looks like a door on a ship or sub), demands they act as midwives and, after delivery, requests that Hedda and Ulli destroy the child as the woman goes on her way.  The two elders can’t do it, instead they name the child Fiska and put her in a barrel of water where she thrives, except for those unfortunate teeth.

The charmingly odd duo make for doting if simple-minded parents and Fiska is a rather uncanny child, so there’s a likeable and quite watchable rapport on display for this segment of the play (feeding time notwithstanding), until the guardians decide it’s time Fiska found a mate.  And who should appear at the door but Horace, “the only guy in town,” a one-legged fisherman who woos Fiska twice.  The first time he’s got to go away again before he can claim his prize, and by the second time Fiska is starting to fade and can barely remember what happened moments ago.  Nothing deterred, Horace (Fisher Neal) overcomes her misgivings and carries the day.  This segment provides the most drama because the interchanges between Horace and Fiska were appealingly forthright and because, in a tale this strange, a love story gives us familiar rooting interest.

We then return to the rituals of Hedda and Ulli we began with, only now with the difference that we understand their sadness was motivated by the loss of their little fish-gobbling, aquatic charge.  Enter pregnant woman Number Two whom Ulli identifies as the woman from the video tape.  Unfortunately, her child is stillborn and so she takes Fiska’s place in the barrel.  It’s about this point that I found myself thinking of William Blake’s poem “The Mental Traveller” with its repetition and concluding line “and all is done as I have told” – I fully expected the play to end with the repetition with a difference, but not so.

Instead Minna (Hannah Rae Montgomery) launces into what seems a trance-delivered rant, bringing to mind Lucky’s monologue in Godot, which is to say the speech has plenty of non-sequiturs and bits that run on to no appreciable purpose.  Hedda and Ulli sit spellbound until the verbal torrent stops (it seemed about ten minutes) then in unison depart, only to appear on the TV where they enter the lake.

I think I was with it until Minna’s babble began, at which point we’d been in this somewhat grotesque environment for a quite a while and I had a sense of the play groping for an ending.  Further, Mulcahy and Sokolovic were fascinating to watch the first time through but rather less when we came back around to where we started.  And yet, I couldn’t help feeling that we needed to turn the big wheel to get to where we had to go.

If Blain-Cruz’s Salome and Vaska have taught me anything, it’s that this director is not going to let you out the door until you feel somewhat uncomfortable, possibly bored, and almost certainly surprised by something you see, often involving fish.

Vaska Vaska, Glöm; written by Stéphanie Hayes; directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz

Yale Cabaret, Sept. 30-Oct. 2, 2010