Learning to be content with who you are and what you have is one of life's more difficult lessons. Our consumer culture doesn't make it any easier.
But greed has been around a long time — long enough to have been tackled by the Grimm brothers in The Fisherman and His Wife, a tale that warns of the slippery slope between improving one's lot in life and getting carried away by greed.
Director Jeremy Kisling is at the helm in this Lexington Children's Theatre revival of Larry and Vivian Snipes' 1999 adaptation of the classic tale. Highly interactive and skewed toward younger children, The Fisherman and His Wife is a simple tale, simply told, with an enduring message: Be careful what you wish for.
For this rendition, Kisling chose to set the story in Ireland, in what the program notes designate as "simpler times."
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Life is indeed simple for the fisherman and his wife. They live in a hut by the sea, with a small garden to grow only the most basic vegetables. Each day of their lives is like the one before it. Their dinner is almost always the same thing: fish and cabbage. The fisherman is content, but his wife wants more. And more and more.
One day, when the fisherman catches and later releases a talking flounder, his wife Isabell scolds him for not getting some wishes from the fish, who surely must be magical. So she sends her husband on a mission to find the fish again and seek a few wishes as payback for returning the fish to the sea rather than having him for dinner.
So he does. On behalf of his wife, the fisherman wishes for a clean cottage, and behold! He goes home to find it. But suddenly, the cottage is not good enough. Isabell sends him back to ask for a castle. Each time her wish is granted, she can think only of how she can top it. Stopping just short of giving her power over the moon and sun, the fisherman wishes his way back to their old life in the hut, when they were most content.
Appropriate for children 4 and older, this show is really a hoot for younger kids, who are encouraged to participate. Jerome Wills' simple set design includes seat cushions scattered around the circular performance area. Children are welcome to sit on the floor right next to the actors, together playing a collective role in the storytelling. For instance, throughout the hourlong performance, kids in the audience pretended to be the wind and waves, crickets and chiming bells, among many other "characters," lending a sense of cooperation and spontaneity. Because of this interactive nature — a few lucky kids even got onstage roles — The Fisherman and His Wife is a fun and instructive experience for youngsters and parents alike.
Kisling deserves praise for thinking up so many ways to engage even the youngest children in this production without losing the message. The ensemble cast, likewise, should be credited for not only marshaling a group of unpredictable children while keeping the show's momentum at a brisk clip, but for keeping their characters and Dublin accents sharp and focused throughout.