Directed by Edward Torres
Produced by Teatro Vista & the Goodman Theatre
At the Goodman’s Owen Theatre, Chicago
Brilliantly written and superbly acted world premiere comic drama deals with chess hustling and revenge
Playwright Candido Tirado is both a writer and a highly-rated chess master. Both skills were played out in his ambitious and superbly structured comic drama, Fish Men. We become eager participants in the world of NYC’s Washington Square Park in the chess pits where local chess hustlers await their next “fish.” We meet the chess hustlers: John (Mike Cherry) – the Belorussian intense player; PeeWee (Kenn E. Head) – the street-wise witty hustler; Cash (Cedric Mays) – the intellectual hustler. All three are money-hungry players. Jerome ( Ricardo Gutierrez) – is the chess-playing political philosopher who only plays chess for sport. Adam Kirchbaum AKA Ninety-Two (Howard Witt) – is the old-timer chess master who kills time in the park.
We start to understand their chess skills and their predatory mentality as a new “fish” or “mark” enters the chess area. Rey Reyes (Raul Castillo) is a well-dressed corporate businessman who searches for Stuart (Daniel Cantor) to repay him for a loan to Rey’s friend from a fleecing by the chess hustlers the day before. While waiting for Stuart, Rey is coaxed into a chess match by Cash and his cohorts. Cash will play Rey with John and PeeWee side-betting with Rey. Rey loses several times as Cash keeps getting Rey to increase his bet after each loss. Once the bet is $100 a match with the two side-bets, something changes. By this time, Dr. Lee (Gordon Chow) and Stuart have arrived. Each tries to get Rey to quite playing to no avail. Rey starts winning.
After hearing Jerome pontificating on the plight of American Indians, we also learn that Ninety-Two is a Holocaust survivor. We learn that Rey is much more than a chump “fish” chess player. We hear his story about surviving a genocide of his family and village in Guatemala. Rey lives for revenge and since the chess hustlers took the man who saved his life in Guatemala, he is bent on cleaning out the hustlers through his amazing chess skills.
Ultimately, Fish Men is a comic drama about individuals struggling to overcome their demons. Revenge, personal angst, and the obsession with chess fuel each man’s lives. This wonderfully structured and expertly directed (by Edward Torres) drama is totally honest and plausible. Tirado understands both the “fish’s” mindset that allows them to keep playing even when it is obvious they can’t win and the heartless mentality of the predatory hustler. I’m guessing that the chess-speak is accurate also? The gradual reversal of fortunes in the dynamic of the “fish-hustler’ interaction is effectively played out. Man’s inhumanity to man is vividly dramatized in this terrific play.
The smart cast featured outstanding performances by Raul Castillo as the haunted Guatemalan with fine work from Howard Witt as the Holocaust survivor. We learn about chess, experience the psychology of hustling and we see the horrors of being a survivor of genocide. Candido Tirado is major talented playwright with a bright future. His Fish Men is a most engaging, funny yet poignant drama. It is one of the gems of the 2012 theatre season. Don’t miss this marvelous play. It’ll moved you.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: April 15, 2012
For more info checkout the Fish Men page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Goodman Theatre’s Owen Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago, IL, call 312-443-3800, www.goodmantheatre.org, tickets $12-$42, Tuesdays thru Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2 & 7:30 pm, running time is 2 hours, 20 minutes with intermission, through May 6, 2012