Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
In writing his new satirical comedy, "Mackerel," now in its full scale production by the Folger Theater Group, Isreal Horovitz quite possibly was unaware of the early, decidely relevant performances of "Harvey."
Mary Chase's enduring comedy about the invisible rabbit was first performed with a visible rabbit, but for the third performance director Antoinette Perry (for whom the "Tony" is named)removed the actor in the bunny suit and for tens of thousands of performances thereafter Frank Fay and his successors talked to a 6-foot-4 rabbit no else ever has seen.
Because "Mackerel" seems like a combination of early lonesco with "All in the Family" and a dash of Stanley Kubrick, the visibilty of its title character seems more hindrance than help to its ambitious charade.
Oh, it's a grand moment, right enough, when David Chapman's giant fish crashes through the wall of the seaside cottage in Gloucester, Mass. He seems a most human monster of the deep, on nthe verge of speech, even, rolling his eyes and groaning. Chapman's scenic design is a realistic delight.
Mackerel the Great arrives in the gray walled dining room in answer to the prayers of a family who moved from the tornado territory of Salina, Kan., to hurricane haven because Dad had a message from On High that something important would one day come to him from the sea.
Dad had a nagging wife, a sensitive, nearsighted daughter, and a sexy wide eyed one. They are, to be brief, unhappy by the sea.
Horovitz has something to say through Dad, Ed Lemon, whose wife and daugthers have the same initials, Emma, Edna, and Eileen. Ed immediately sees in their monster mackerel money, fame and even a Nobel Price. They will tell no one about the giant fish in their now fenced yard; they'll sell the meat and get rich. When it's discovered the meat turns a cat into a lion, the find becomes all the more valuable in Ed'd eyes: a discovery to grow a race of giants.
So, what this scrapping, all Americanfamily from Kansas represents is our national passion for money and fame. That their fish kills off more than the American continent is the Horovitz parable.
The stagingproblem makes this a struggle between the literal and the imaginary. While Zero Mostel brilliantly suggested that he had, indeed, turned into a rhinoceros for Ionesco's play, he was still Mostel, not an igeniously dressed, masked actor. The actor's imagination and those of the audience were perfectly fused.
However, the presence of the massive mackerel, so ingeniously devised, becomes a literal element. Since the family itself verges often and, I dare say purposefully, on the cliche, that is another element of the literal. Horovitz does not really like his Kansas refugees and to make them and his distaste clear, he also is literal in his writing. Hence, the actuality of the mackerel tips the delicate balance of his fable into realism.
The united imaginations of players and audience are denied their freedom, interchabge and mutual inspirations. The barrier of realism stifles a potentially effective intent.
Louis W. Scheeder's staging, often ingenious, has the advantage of a firm company. Brian Hartigan as Dad seems to have been encouraged to think about Carroll O'Connor, of "All in the Family," and Jo Henderson is spirited as the wife.Pat Karpen, as usual, is immensely real as Edna and Elizabeth Kemp is as ravishingly attrative as Eileen must be.