Capital Fringe Festival: ‘Pascal’s Aquarium’
By Nelson Pressley
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
“Pascal’s Aquarium”: Fish or fowl? The Fringe show by Nice-eeNice Productions is a puppet musical about sorting out differences in a confined space. Some of the sea creatures are not like the others, so there are tunes about getting along and so forth.
“Everyone comes here from someplace else,” goes the refrain of one song as black-clad actors wave hand puppets around in an imitation of water-borne floating. The sets are minimal; the lighting is blue-green. Sophisticated it ain’t.
The puppets look kind of alluring: There’s a sea turtle, and a puffer fish, and a piranha, and a shrimp herd, and more (the puppets are by Eric Brooks and Don Becker). But except for a catfish so big it takes two actors to work it, it’s hard to keep your eyes on the puppets while the visible actors talk and (especially) sing.
Brooks did the folksy, soulful music with Danny Pushkin and Mylie Eugene Durham IV, and Pushkin wrote the book and lyrics. The songs are a stew of styles and tones; the one that lands best is an illicit “Hair” homage about a stoner turtle. But where, you wonder as the narrative drifts, is this going? Is this an “Avenue Q”-style sendup? Is it camp? Why does it keep sounding so insistently earnest?
The story focuses on a lobster that doesn’t quite get what’s up. The world outside this little enclave is rough, the characters say, but as comic bits die and the pre-revision “Spider-Man” starts looking coherent by comparison, the droning tale inside the tank rankles. You think uncharitable things about the lobster. Like boil that thing already.