Canadian playwright Vern Thiessen’s dark comedy/drama Blowfish, presented with a delicious dinner tonight (Nov. 16) through Nov. 19 by Raleigh Ensemble Players and the Town of Cary in the Page-Walker Arts & History Center in downtown Cary, NC, is a marvelously macabre play about a deeply disturbed university-trained caterer with a philosophy degree named Lumière (played by Chris Milner), who supervises the staff/supporting cast as they serve the audience hors d’oeuvres; wine and/or iced tea and coffee; their choice of a chicken, beef, or vegetarian entrée; and a delicious dessert sampler—all delectably prepared by chef Sunny McDaniel. Each night, Lumière (which is a French word for “light,” as in mental enlightenment) invites the audience to Eat, Listen, and Witness.—and, judging from Milner’s performance last night, they will hang on his every word.
No, there is no fish on the menu; and even if there were, a blowfish (a.k.a. a puffer or a swellfish), with its inflatable bladder and poisonous protective spines, would not be a candidate.
Vern Thiessen’s Blowfish is virtually a one-man show, performed in the round as Lumière walks back and forth, seeing to the comfort of his guests, riding herd on his waiters and waitresses as they serve the three-course dinner, and regaling the audience with the tragic story of a catastrophic injury to his 16-year-old twin brother in an automobile accident and tragic death years later of his parents in a freak tornado. Given the peripatetic nature of his performance, plus the fact that it was opening night, Chris Milner can be forgiven if he flubbed a few lines.
Overall, even with a mullet and dressed in funereal garb, Milner gave a mesmerizing performance as he gradually pealed more and more layers from Lumière’s personal onion, revealing some shocking little quirks and recounting some of the sordid chapters of Lumière’s personal history, such as his unhealthy infatuation with former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s wife, Mila, and his sporadic forays into conservative politics, including creepy trips to Texas and Oklahoma at the times of the U.S. government’s assault on the Branch Davidian complex and the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.
While the audience Listens with rapt attention and Eats with relish, what they are to Witness at the end of the evening becomes increasingly clear. The only questions are, When and How?
Chris Milner superbly captures Lumière’s sepulchral manner—Lumière’s father was an undertaker and the boy grew up around dead bodies—and the REP supporting cast contributes some crisp cameos. Especially memorable are Donnis Collins’ pert portrayal of Mila Mulroney, Jesse Gephart’s avuncular performance as her politician-husband and Conservative Party stalwart Brian, and Tim Overcash’s pungent portrait of ultra-right-wing zealot Robert Fletcher a.k.a. The Prophet.
REP artistic director C. Glen Matthews imaginatively navigates the strange plot twists and turns of Blowfish, and adds another laurel to his directorial crown with this provocative production. And production designers Thomas Mauney and Miyuki Su have splendidly set up a dining room at the Page-Walker Arts & History Center as a bonny stage where the unsettling events of Vern Thiessen’s more and more disturbing story can be vividly acted out with maximum impact.
Raleigh Ensemble Players and the Town of Cary present Blowfish Thursday-Sunday, Nov. 16-19, at 7:30 p.m. in the Page-Walker Arts & History Center, 119 Ambassador Loop, Cary North Carolina. $25 ($10 and one punch for REPpass and SILVERpass holders), including dinner. 919/832-9607, TTY 919/835-0624, or visit http://www.realtheatre.org/ BFreservation.html [inactive 8/07]. Note: The Nov. 17th show will be a fully accessible performance, with audio description provided by Arts Access. Raleigh Ensemble Players: http://www.realtheatre.org/. Town of Cary: http://www.townofcary.org/. Page-Walker Arts & History Center: http://www.townofcary.org/depts/prdept/ facilities/pwhome.htm [inactive 10/09]. Vern Thiessen: http://members.shaw.ca/ vern.thiessen/ (official web site) and http://www.canadiantheatre. com/dict.pl?term= Vern%20Thiessen (Encyclopedia of Canadian Theatre). Blowfish: http://members. shaw.ca/vern.thiessen/vernblowfish.html (official web site) and http://www. canadiantheatre.com/dict.pl?term=Blowfish (Encyclopedia of Canadian Theatre). Excerpt: http://members.shaw.ca/vern.thiessen/blow%20excerpt.pdf. [Canadian links inactive 7/07]