How does one characterize a quality theater production? Does the play teach a lesson, or does it make us look introspectively at our own character and actions? Maybe we leave the theater scratching our heads in bewilderment.
The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s (MVRHS) production of “Big Fish” is sure to check all those boxes, but there’s something special about this year’s big musical performance.
A tragic yet hopeful tale, “Big Fish” is centered around a father and son’s complicated relationship as the two progress through their lives.
Adapted from a book by Daniel Wallace, the play was also made into a popular movie nominated for four Golden Globes. The musical ”Big Fish” opened officially on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre in October 2013, and closed on Dec. 29, 2013.
The uncertain narrative alternates between elaborate and far-fetched tales spun by the central character and unreliable narrator, Edward Bloom, and the difficult reality he faces when seeing his son, Will, get married and start a life of his own.
In many instances, the boundary between imagination and reality is obscured from view, as Edward’s stories become more and more unbelievable as he faces his own mortality. Certainly, it can be said that the extravagance and intrigue of Edward’s quixotic dreams of the past far exceed his humdrum existence in his small Alabama town, making him feel like a big fish in a small pond.
Will eventually uncovers sad and dark secrets about his father, which strain their relationship.
But Will’s love for his father is undying, even though he occasionally sees him as a stranger.
As the many plot tangents begin to collide at the end of the play, the entire story begins to take the shape of a classic epic poem or lyrical ballad, and gives nods to Homer’s “Odyssey.”
Aside from the immersive and fascinating themes and motifs that dominate the plot of “Big Fish,” it’s the actors, stage directors, visual artists, and musicians who are going to make this production one for the books.
MVRHS actor and singer Skylar Hall said becoming the deeply paradoxical character of Edward Bloom was a “challenge and a thrill.”
“One of the reasons I love this play is because of how strange it is,” Skylar said. “There is so much to take away from the relationship between Edward and Will.” Skylar said that as he began to familiarize himself with the odd family dynamic that plays out in the story, he started to think about his own life and his place in the world. “I think I learned a lot about being true to myself. In the play, Edward remains true to himself, and that’s what matters to him,” Hall said.
Another student, Jaden Edelman, said that his role as Will taught him about close familial relationships, and how it is sometimes difficult to put your trust in someone, even when they are your own blood.
“Will is a good son, and he wants to believe his father. He is really trying to reconcile with Edward, and find some degree of truth in the stories he tells, even though it is putting stress on his own relationships,” Jaden said.
Bella Giordano plays Sandra, Will’s mother and Edward’s dedicated and passionate wife. Bella said Sandra is “the rock” in the play, and serves as a bridge between the two men. “Sandra is such a strong character in the play. She really represents a powerful woman who is so devoted to the people she cares about,” Bella said.
And working alongside talented and experienced actors are some incredible behind-the-scenes contributors, such as stage manager Violet Cabot, who says this year’s performance strays from recent Performing Arts Center productions.
“We are doing something really special this year,” Violet said. “There are so many people working hard to make sure everything is right.”
Violet said that, for the first time in MVRHS history, the theater program has collaborated directly with the visual arts program to illustrate ornate and colorful backdrops for various scenes throughout the experience.
“Each backdrop is made by a different visual artist. Lots of them are hand-drawn, so they each have their own individual energy to them,” Violet said.
With a minimalist set and limited props, Violet said the acting, singing, and costumes take center stage. “We really wanted to focus on telling a story to the audience, and letting the acting and music speak for itself,” Violet said.
Theater instructor Brook Ditchfield said it’s difficult to choose what plays or musicals to perform each year, but this one stood out to her as something that “will give the audience the most.”
“We went as big as you possibly can with this story. It deals with family relationships and real-life issues, but then there are witches, giants, and everything in between,” she said.
According to Ditchfield, finding a fitting play for the school year always starts with students. She looks at the school climate, and considers what plays might be relevant and timely. But Ditchfield also highlighted the importance of being able to enter the theater and have a great time witnessing the colorful costumes and listening to the broad range of musical numbers.
“I think it was difficult for me and some of the students at first to really let ourselves move with the magic of this production, but once you really lean into the playfulness of it all, it goes from the biggest challenge, to the biggest enjoyment,” Ditchfield said.
And to accompany the brilliant acting and stage production, some of the Island’s most talented musicians will make the event even more of a collaborative effort.
Department chair and musical director for “Big Fish” Abigail Chandler said the music in the play ranges from old-style Western numbers to love songs, and tap routines.
“There is such an incredible diversity of genres, and the musical talent this year is going to be spectacular — we have very highly trained musicians giving us their time to help with this production,” Chandler said.
Overall, “Big Fish” can teach us a lot of valuable lessons about the inherent complexities of family dynamics, the power of love, and the often confusing and uncertain nature of reality and imagination.
Don’t miss the grand opening for “Big Fish” on Thursday, Feb. 13, starting at 7 pm. The production runs at the same time on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 14 and 15, then there will be an early showing on Sunday, Feb. 16, at 2 pm. Admission is $10 for students and seniors, and $15 for the general public.