Theater Spotlight: The Ice Fishing Play

Ron (Matt Erkel) sits in his icehouse, baits his hook, and waits, in <i>Ice Fishing</i>

Ron (Matt Erkel) sits in his icehouse, baits his hook, and waits, in Ice Fishing

Kevin Kling's claustrophobic drama set in an ice-fishing house saw its premiere at the Humana Festival 15 years ago, but let's face it: Raw, unnerving, existential despair (here of the frozen, northern variety) never goes out of style. Our protagonist, Ron (Matt Erkel), arrives in his frigid hut, flips on the radio (after the disembodied announcers express dismay over a local murder, they settle into the calming rhythm of alphabetical school closings), and proceeds to drop his various fishing lines and stow away his beer supply. Erkel convinces us that Ron is a stoic loner, though Kling's script insists that his solitude be broken by a succession of visitors. First is his wife, Irene (Mame Pelletier), under strict orders not to disturb Ron's silence but arriving nonetheless with her frustrations and artistic aspirations, followed by a pair of Christian missionaries, then Ron's brother Duff (Tom Sonnek, playing another tundra man of few words, though injecting a welcome wry note into the proceedings) and motor-mouth pal Junior (Tim Uren). There's a growing sense in this one-act that things are not what they seem, particularly when Ron and Duff note that they haven't been in one another's presence for more than a quarter-century, and while Sarah Gioia's direction keeps the focus on an easygoing pace and understated humor, Kling gradually drops the dagger into our hearts. Ron's hut turns out to be perched on a lake where the fish never bite, his life outside the hut comprising unfulfilled promise and unspoken loss, his visitors specters of life's parade that has well and truly passed him by. This is an anti-drama, in a sense, in which action and events sort of bleed away into nothingness, the great white void that gnaws at the heart of anyone subjected to the long freeze of winter (or whoever has stepped out into subzero temperatures and immediately apprehended the environment as a perfect metaphor for what lies within). This Ice Fishing Play is as unassuming as its characters and setting, though its metaphoric power is as unavoidable, and distressing, as our next plunge into the climatic deep freeze.