An unhappily married fisherman and his wife get some unsolicited sex therapy from a nautically tattooed traveling salesman and a sexually insatiable pair of tentacled sea creatures in Steve Yockey’s laugh-out-loud surreal screwball comedy The Fisherman’s Wife, Ensemble Studio Theatre’s maiden offering in The Speakeasy, its brand new (and aptly named) performance space in Atwater Village.

We first meet baby-faced fisherman Cooper Minnow (Michael Hanson) and his nubile young wife Vanessa (Sarah McCarron) mid-spat, Vanessa haranguing her hapless hubby about their “basically imaginary,” “undercooked” sex life, a litany of barbs which include an accusatory “I was bamboozled by the man I thought you were,” and that’s just when Vanessa is getting started.

 Clearly the only place Cooper wants to be is out, and so he heads off to the sea, leaving poor Vanessa hornier than ever and ripe for Thomas Bell (Patrick Flanagan), an “alt attractive … son-of-a-haberdasher” traveling salesman with a bottomless bag of erotica, including a gigantic phallus-like gourd and a Japanese woodcut of a naked woman being “tentacle raped” by an octopus.

Before long, Thomas has stripped down to a pair of illustrated black jockey shorts and revealed a torso tattooed with aquatic images including an anchor, a pair of starfish, and most importantly, a green fish the kind that legends are told about.

Meanwhile, Cooper has been waylaid at the docks by what appear to be a young man and woman wearing 1920s-style swimwear, but who we soon learn are a squid (Kim Chueh) and an octopus (Gary Patent), so much in sync that they speak in unison and both fancy the cute blond fisherman in the most carnal of ways.

The result of these two encounters is, not surprisingly, a pair sexual liaisons, in one case by mutual consent, in the other decidedly not so, leaving our poor fisherman hero nearly catatonic (and covered with “thick, sticky beast juice”).

 In a case like this, what’s a wife to do but go out and find the sea creatures who sexually assaulted her man, leaving Cooper at home for his own encounter with a traveling salesman who may well swing both ways.

If all this sounds more than a tad icky, it might well be were it written by someone other than Yockey, who knows how to turn a tale as bizarre as this one into a laugh-filled erotic romp, directed here with just-right whimsy by Gates McFadden and performed by a cast who obviously understand that Yockey’s tongue is (among other orifices) stuck primarily in cheek and who play their parts accordingly.

 McCarron and Hanson are terrific at bringing the embattled Cooper and Vanessa to life, and completely uninhibited in roles requiring considerable physicality, whether its Hanson finding himself sandwiched between a pair of sexually voracious cephalopods or McCarron being nearly squeezed to smithereens by some extremely long tentacles (for which an uncredited someone deserves program mention). Flanagan, splendid too, plays Thomas with a slyly, sexily insinuating delivery that makes it clear why both men and women might fall under his spell. Finally, the delectably-in-sync Chueh and Patent couldn’t be more scintillatingly funny as two very horny sea creatures.

The Fisherman’s Wife includes a puppet show featuring a miniature Thomas-as-marionette and the weirdest looking sea creature you’ve probably ever seen—a sequence designed by John Burton and executed to perfection by puppeteers Kevin Comartin and Kevin Riggin. There’s also “entertainment by the Squid and the Octopus” that unfortunately gets performed during the under-90-minute show’s unnecessary intermission, which many audience members, this reviewer included, spent in the outside courtyard. (I’m told that octopus Patent and squid Chueh performed ditties in Russian and Chinese, but that’s hearsay as sadly I missed this part of the evening’s festivities.)

Burton’s scenic design is basic in the extreme, just some large, sea-and-tentacle-themed paintings by Hillary Bauman hung on the performance spaces’ black walls, which in this intimate nightclub setting ends up being just enough. Joe Kennedy has designed precisely the sort of whimsical costumes Yockey’s play calls for. Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski’s excellent sound design incorporates an imaginative mix of quirky aquatic sounds. Derrick McDaniel’s lighting is topnotch as well. The production’s poster art, however, turns out to be somewhat a case of false advertising.

The Fisherman’s Wife is produced by Gates McFadden and Andrew Carlberg. Priscilla Miranda is stage manager, Oren Peleg assistant director, and Jamie Sara production manager.

Were The Fisherman’s Wife not so outrageously funny or so sparklingly performed, it could easily have ended up the kind of artsy-fartsy mess this reviewer does his best to avoid. Fortunately, the opposite turns out to be the case. Short and sweet (well maybe not all that sweet), The Fisherman’s Wife is a tangy-as-tartar-sauce treat.

Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
November 5, 2012

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