The nature of the theatrical event is found in ritual or routine, drama enters the equation when that event suffers a rupturing. Most often when the rupture is unmendable we have a tragedy (“Oedipus Rex”, “Hamlet”, “Death of a Salesman”). When the rupture is mended we generally have a comedy (Felix moves out of Oscar’s apartment, Prospero adjures his magic, Ruthie and Lloyd make love regardless of being coated in her mother’s ashes). What contributes to raising a play to the level of good or even great drama is when the playwright understands that ritual and routine are echoing off a shared source.
In Lee Wochner’s “The Size of Pike”, the routine is represented by the gathering of friends the night before the annual fishing trip. The ritual finds expression in the journeys the characters find themselves facing, which transcend returning to the favorite fishing hole.
The piece opens with Rod (Dennis Delsing) ribbing his fishing partner John (Jon Amirkhan) none too gently over the abundance of gear he’s packing for the trip. Rod prides himself on only taking five items, the knife his recently deceased father crafted together from a broken axle and a tree struck by lightning, a six pack of beer, a bottle of cheap scotch, cheaper cigars.
“Take whatever you want – you gotta carry it,” Rod chimes him.
The rupture is introduced with the arrival of Fletcher (Gregg Christie). Childhood friends with Rod, all but brothers, the two men now find themselves estranged by Rod’s sense of betrayal at Fletcher’s not having attended the funeral of Rod’s father.
Wochner has crafted a play that enfolds volumes within its brevity. It is crass and lyrical, familiar and unanticipated, evident and tantalizingly intangible which offers audiences layers of reflections and musings to delve beneath and uncover.
Wochner’s work is enriched by a fine cast, customary of productions at Moving Arts. Amirkhan as the affable peacemaker of the trio has woven a splendid performance both sincere and nuanced. Delsing communicates coarseness of his character with an under current of pathos that does not allow the audience to dismiss the characters’ humanity. Christie fills the stage with his physical presence and the sense of history his character shares with that of Rod.
Audiences should be prepared for the confined arena of the Moving Arts’ stage, which places you closer to the actors than some may at first be comfortable with. But Director Sara Wagner has successfully addressed the venue limitations and in the process veiled the production with a sense of intimacy rather than constraint.
The intimacy is welcome, because these men, portrayed on stage, are familiar to some of us. They were our fathers, our uncles, and their pals either from the plant or from down at the Elks Club. And if you were a child who preferred reading to hunting, and who was upset at the thought of how the hook must hurt the worm, you knew one day you would reject the world these men offered, but that you would never lose your awe of how they stood astride it.
Perhaps the more attentive reader will have noticed that in describing the five items Rod carries with him, only four were named. In the context of the play, Rod is called on this same error of deficiency by the astute John, and glibly resorts to a joke to cover his mistake.
But the truth is that the last item is the one we carry on our journeys, and the only one we take on our “last”. Our memories.
As Rod cautions us, “Take whatever you want – you gotta carry it.”
There is a short poem by the late, great James Thurber that kept running through my head while I wrote this review, and it does capture an element of the play far better than I ever could:
“All men should strive to learn before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why.”
“The Size of Pike” originally produced by Moving Arts in 1994 is being revived as part of their 20/20 Vision series, in acknowledgment of their twentieth anniversary season.
Both the play and the occasion are worthy of celebrating.
Oh, and I must acknowledge Peanut McCoy the house manager for doing a fine job and having a great name to boot.
The Size of Pike
By Lee Wochner
Directed by Sara Wagner
Produced by Dana Schwartz
Moving Arts Hyperion Station
1822 Hyperion Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90027
May 3 – June 1, 2013
Thur-Sat at 8 p.m.
(photo: Dennis Delsing, Jon Amirkham and Gregg Christie. Photo by Ross Kramer)