Theater review: Even with a cast of one, there’s a lot to like about ‘Fishing For My Father’
Charlie Chaplin taught us years ago that Everyman can both act the clown and demonstrate enormous dignity, and Chris Harder’s fisherman shows us the same thing.
In “Fishing For My Father,” Harder makes struggling into his fishing waders a solemn occasion with the ceremonial seriousness of a knight putting on his armor before battle, and also as gently funny as the spectacle of a child trying to zip into his own snowsuit.
Here is a person, we understand, suiting up for everything that is complicated. Fishing is about life and manhood and fatherhood and being a son and passing on everything you know to be important to the next generation so that a thread of yourself runs true into the future.
Seeing this one-person play is to experience something profound with one of Portland’s best actors. And, the production was created by an impressive group of theater hotshots, including director Jonathan Walters.
Harder’s character goes on a fishing trip with a brother and nephew we can’t see, and through his side of the conversation we learn about their family history, what kind of men they are and how they got that way, and how they are teaching the next generation. At natural pauses in the story, he shifts gears and moves in a primal, pre-language way that is part dance, part pantomime, to the voices of people telling stories about their fathers. He also interacts with the audience (which is fun but not necessary – he already has us).
Harder’s character is a working man. That his portrayal shows great affection for the character is a refreshing change in a medium that tends to play such people as single-faceted, Stanley Kowalski-type brutes.
The fisherman does have some Kowalski in him, but he is a complex person who, though he shows some bluster in his stance, betrays by his smaller movements that he is unsure of how he fits into the universe. He has a troubled relationship with the very air around him, and we can hear him breathe, as if he’s testing to make sure the oxygen will continue to sustain his life.
But it’s the water that makes him understand what he is.