The Mystery of the Seventeen Pilot Fish by Mike Kleine
Proving to be quite adept at blending together mystery and surrealism in his quintessentially bizarre way, “The Mystery of the Seventeen Pilot Fish” is a character study in shifting identity. Throughout the play the characters continuously morph into ever new variations on their old selves. Questions are asked but refuse to be properly answered. And, of course, there are those fish that are listed in painstaking detail. In fact, Mike Kleine’s love of lists comes shining right through as every fish, the multiples of fish, reveal them quite beautifully.
Over the course of the play, whose ability to be performed seems to be hindered by the impossible scenarios, the characters find themselves constantly being redefined. Though at first some of these seem crazy, with the passage of time and the gradual unfurling they appear to reflect upon life, which is always in flux. Keeping characters exactly the same for a single story seems even more patently absurd then changing their identity. A handful of playwrights try to ensure that characters remain unchanging, most notably Brecht’s stubbornness regarding development. By letting the characters ‘be themselves’ Mike Kleine lets a lot of playfulness enter into the equation. The result varies from dark, nightmarish moments, to some of the deadpan delivery that opens the play. In fact a great deal of humor is derived from Mike Kleine playing against the traditional structure of what a play entails. Stage direction becomes dialogue. Random acts of randomness are interspersed throughout the play as well, things that appear to be impossible and have little, if nothing, to do with the performance at hand.
Randomness actually occurs quite frequently throughout life. Literature, plays, they tend to edit these out. Oftentimes the background of a situation is deliberately edited out. In Mike Kleine’s world, he lets the background static serve as a backdrop to the more focused story that unfolds before the eyes. Some of this references fiction, of Godzilla and debris of pop culture. A few moments veer towards a cryto-mysticism, something that Mike Kleine has employed to great effect throughout his writing career. His attention to detail is also quite profound, as he focuses on the smallest of details, from brand of jacket to flavors of sherbet.
By opting to include it all Mike Kleine’s “The Mystery of the Seventeen Pilot Fish” succeeds at an interesting paradox: blending elements of normcore “I am sitting” with a dreamy, otherworldly flair. It is both of this world and out of this world simultaneously, resulting in something oddly beautiful.