When you have a 250,000 pound fish on stage, you have - a what?

A symbol.

Fish are highly symbolic, as we all know from Literature I, and a house-sized mackerel is not going to come crashing onto the stage of the Folger Theater without bringing all kinds of meaning along with him. The title character in Israel Horovitz's "Mackerel" is furthermore, sent by God in answer to prayer, it is miraculously growth-producing, and it is poisonous.

So what does it symbolize?

Dunno.

If Horovitz knows the answer, he is not telling. His characters, who merrily run about splashing water on the fish's nose, are boffled. For one moment, the fish seems on the verge of explaining itself - it moans and rolls its spectacular eyes - but then it changes its mind and dies without enlightening anyone.

The fish is actually a rather marvelous creation in a play that otherwise consists of what is apparently supposed to be your typical American family: four people who hate one another. The family, played in the style of television insult, is cleverly named Lemon. This not only described their ability to function, but goes well with fish.

Into the midst of their future, and right through their wall, comes this huge fish, a response to family prayers that their lives be changed. That they will merely intensify their selfishness by merchandising their gift from heaven even after it has gone bad is obvious from their natures. They never said they wanted to get better, only richer. But that God should wish to cooperate, and should make them the instrument for destroying half the world - which was apparently guilty of nothing more than a taste for bargain fishsticks - white saving them - "for study" - is inexplicable.

God moves in mysterious ways, of course, but symbols are supposed to have some logic to them. Or so it was said in Literature II.