For the longest time, all I knew about Kevin Kling was that he had a heavy reputation and wasn’t to be confused with a famous actor whose name was spelled pretty much the same. Then I went to the Guthrie and saw Carlo Goldoni’s The Venetian Twins adapted by Michael Bogdanov with additional material by Kling.
|the ice fishing play, a play written by kevin kling and directed by sarah gioia. presented through february 1 by theatre in the round, 245 cedar ave., minneapolis. for tickets ($20) and information, see theatreintheround.org.|
The premise of The Venetian Twins was kind of clever-kooky: long-separated brothers arrive in town, causing a world of confusion when cash, jewels and declarations of love all wind up going in the wrong direction. The casting was criminal, with Gavin Lawrence as an approximation of Stepin Fetchit, Ralph Remington ridiculously flouncing around as a gay caricature in the role of a cop, and elderly Edna D. Duncan loaded down with bags and trunks, trudging across the stage in an Aunt Jemima getup like somebody’s pack mule. The abuse of black actors amounted, in my view, to a coon show. How much of this was Kling’s doing I had no idea, but he had his name attached to the show and that was good enough reason for me to turn the page any time I came across an ad for one of his plays.
Then, Theatre in the Round announced that it would be producing Kling’s world-traveled, well-received script The Ice Fishing Play. It was a chance to see what else the guy could do, and it turned out to be nothing terribly impressive. For all Kling’s success, from All Things Considered and A Prairie Home Companion to a list as long as your arm of stage productions across the country and overseas, The Ice Fishing Play reveals Kling to be overrated—unless the rest of his canon is considerably better.
In an icehouse on a frozen lake, all a fella (Matt Erkel) longs to do is fish for the proverbial big catch in peace and quiet. No such luck. His wife, a talented painter, won’t leave him alone. Neither will his brother, the local bait shop owner. Even a pair of Bible-bearing missionaries show up in the middle of nowhere to get between him and his solace. Pursuant to all of which, not a single thing happens in the entire play. You can’t even commiserate with the guy for wanting to enjoy a little solitude, given what big a schmuck as he is. (His poor wife’s worst offense turns to be that she wants to help improve his lot in life.)
The best that can be said of The Ice Fishing Play is it’s something of an ersatz stab at existentialism. On the other hand, it’s very popular. I go to Sunday matinees because they tend not to be very crowded. For this play, the place was packed. Feel absolutely free to go ahead and take your chances, but don’t say you weren’t warned.
Dwight Hobbes is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.