Jim Lichtscheidl (Erik) and Mark Rylance (Ron) in NIce Fish.
Photo by Richard Termine
Louis Jenkins and Mark Rylance didn't meet until they began to work on their collaboration, Nice Fish, which opens this week at the Guthrie Theater.
Their connection, however, goes back further. During each of his two Tony Award acceptance speeches, Rylance read prose poems by the Duluth-based writer.
"During the Tony Awards I got an email telling me he used my work as an acceptance speech. I wasn't watching, so I looked it up on Youtube," Jenkins says.
The two got in touch and began working on collaboration. "He wanted to do a play about ice fishing using my poems. I thought why not, but I didn't think it was going to work," Jenkins says. "We met in New York in December of 2008, and put on a one-act workshop of the play. It seemed to go pretty well. Over the next few years, we worked on it as we could."
Nice Fish is drawn from Jenkins's book of the same name. In the stage version, we follow a pair of fisherman -- Ron (Rylance) and Eric (Jim Lichtscheidl) -- out on the last day of the season. Complications ensue, especially after the ice starts to break up, and the pair are left adrift. The cast also includes Emily Swallow, Chris Carlson, Bob Davis, and Tyson Forbes.
"The actors are wonderful. They understand the poems, and it is good to see that they bring their own personality to the work. It is a kind of a magic thing to see," Jenkins says.
Jenkins first encountered Rylance's work at the Guthrie, when the actor played the title role in Peer Gynt. The English actor and director -- who spent much of his childhood living in Wisconsin -- also brought several productions from Shakespeare's Globe to the Guthrie.
Rylance is joined by Claire van Kampen in the director's chair. She also wrote the original music for the production.
Of course, writing poetry on your own and producing a play are two very different art forms. "There are so many people involved. As a poet, you are all by yourself; hardly anyone applauds," Jenkins says. "The crew and the cast work together well, and the Guthrie is just marvelous. If you want something like a prop, the next day you've got it."
Collaborating with Rylance has "been great. We have disagreed on certain things at certain times, but it has been a good experience," Jenkins says.
"Before the first preview, I was way more nervous than I thought I would be. It turned out well, even though we altered the play after that," Jenkins says.
While he has been out on the ice a few times, Jenkins admits that ice fishing is not his bag. As for the folks who spend their winters in such a fashion, "I think people all have different motivations. The characters in the play, one is serious about catching fish, while the other is there to accompany his buddy and have fun," he says.
"I imagine for people who ice fish there are a lot of reasons. On smaller lakes with lots of ice-fishing houses, it can be a more social activity. When you are on Lake Superior, where you are isolated and have no amenities, that kind of fisherman has to be more into catching fish," Jenkins says.
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