Live theater, unsolicited commentary. From Detroit to Lansing.


In another crossover episode between its theater and improvisation worlds, Planet Ant Theatre offers the late-night show Fish Dinner, a one-man play written and performed by actor/improviser Quintin Hicks and directed by Dave Davies. Like many of its colleagues in the late-night series, this is a no-frills showcase for a celebrated local improviser, here a former Second City performer. It is also the funniest thing around.

Ranging 40–60 minutes in length, the one-act production is largely absent of plot. Instead, the world of the play is made up of tangentially connected characters, which Hicks fleshes out in about a dozen improvised monologues (hence the variation in running time). Some links between individuals are overt and specifically mentioned, whereas others are much looser; by avoiding formulaic bog, the structure undercuts audience expectations and keeps afloat the promise that anything is possible, up to and including a prologue by a fish. What the fish has to do with anything is up for interpretation, but what happens onstage is interesting and fulfilling enough to make it feel beside the point.

Hicks's best character is whichever one he's inhabiting at the moment. These carefully honed personas are complete with myriad physical, vocal, and facial distinctions; the performer utterly disappears within each individual. Far from throwing on a Mrs. Bates wig and screeching in falsetto, Hicks brings to life not types, but people. From a booming professional wrestler to a fun-loving hairdresser to a gruffly lecherous widower, most are original creations, which only serves to set up one noteworthy celebrity impression that, quite simply, kills. Although comedy is permitted to be sloppy, and expertise doesn’t always cause the laughter to swell, with this performer, mastery and hilarity are perfectly symbiotic. Admittedly, some of the subject matter and language is in the vicinity of the gutter, but the raunchiness doesn't feel exploitative; this is far more evolved than gross-out or shock humor, and the titillating moments are well rationed.

The improvisational nature of the show ensures that Hicks is finely attuned to his audience; without the strictures of a preordained text, his performance is informed by their reactions more than is conventionally possible. The play’s confessional structure allows him to collectively (and sometimes individually) address the viewers, and also to banter with accompanist Geff Phillips, who provides an incidental keyboard soundtrack from the side of the stage. Phillips engages in a little patter himself and also sets the mood between scenes, during which Hicks approaches one of two bookshelves carefully splayed with costume pieces and calmly transforms in plain sight, a new person from the instant he turns to face the house. The uncredited lighting design lends some variation to different scenes and indulgently dims for the costume changes, which are in themselves a sort of patient communion between performer and observer. There are no tricks here, and very few surprises — with nothing up his sleeves, the viewer cannot mistake Hicks’s comic gift for anything but pure magic.

Supremely acted, tightly paced, quirkily fresh, and a laugh riot, Fish Dinner handily achieves what it sets out to do, which is to delight. Hicks and Davies clearly know what’s funny and how to make it funnier, and there’s no opportunity wasted in this production, a happy hybrid of theater and improv comedy that’s at the top of its game.


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