Fishing. It's not in my family's history, but it's in our American consciousness, and the importance is undeniable. This importance is expertly parodied and honored by Chris Harder—writer, sound designer and sole performer in Fishing for my Father (directed by Jonathan Walters). The play portrays the very realistic unraveling of hardened, fatherless Max: A fishing trip with his gay brother and nephew brings him frustration, but also allows him to work out his family issues.
Harder also inhabits a second character during the play, another fisherman who occupies a different world, representing both the extremely poignant and the formulaic aspects of Max's fishing persona. This fisherman stands at attention, like a still from a Wes Anderson film: cargo shirt open over camouflage thermal, fishing pole erect and orange beanie just-so atop his head. The play, however, is all earnestness and fluidity, with no room for the ironic waters the hipster cinema king swims in.
Harder does swim in one scene, a beautiful vignette simulating underwater movement. One of the play's primary concerns is movement—Harder collaborated with movement artist Christine Calfas and clown Philip Cuomo, and it shows. Fishing for My Father hops between Max's real-time conversation pieces and the fisherman's farcical, abstract episodes; these latter dramatize and parody fishing.
Harder's fisherman makes self-satisfied faces at the audience as he suits up in waders, cargo shorts, bucket hat and fishing vest ("Pockets!" he emphasizes). He brings our attention to the felt soles of his "no-slip" shoes and then promptly slips—marvelously vaudeville. He affects a big man's stride, but later balks, dashing straight into his tent at the first hoot of an owl. And pay close attention to that tackle box of his.
The physical elegance displayed adds further gradations to the play. Harder moves, tumbles, fishes and dances, as anecdotal voice-overs play—these tapes are a conceit that would make a fine community project, but are needless given Harder's engaging onstage energy. Scenes end in a moment cued by Harder's body shifting into a different zone, one slower and more interpretive: His face goes blank and dips down, or both hands glide in the air. These physical displays tap into a family's—a country's—pastime more deeply than any schmaltzy anecdote could.
Only one fish is actually caught during Fishing for My Father, but Harder's vigor, carriage and clarity has his audience on the line the whole time.
at the CoHo Theater, 2257 NW Raleigh St., 220-2646. 8 pm Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 pm Sundays. Closes Aug. 29. $10-$20.