'Lungfish' is intense, affecting drama


"Wrong Turn at Lungfish" gives us a premise right out of a television sitcom: Gum-popping New York bimbo volunteers to read to blind, dying college professor and winds up teaching him things about life he never learned back in Metaphysics 101.

On one level, "Lungfish" is quite the cute comedy.

"Want to come down here next to me?" says the young woman, suggesting a more comfortable position for the man as she reads.

"Physically, yes," he answers. "Intellectually, not without scuba gear."

But for all the "Simonized" yuks, the Garry Marshall and Lowell Ganz play currently in production at Colonial Players of Annapolis goes beyond the formulaic mismatching of social types to become a sad, intense, affecting piece of drama.

Professor Peter Ravenswaal is a dyspeptic academic whose personal misery has flooded its banks to keep afloat an overly intellectual, atheistic view of the world that dismisses human existence as a mere hiccup of the evolutionary cycle. (Hence, the play's goofy title.)

Anita Meredino may be a promiscuous floozy with an ulterior motive or two up her sleeve, but she's not buying what the professor is selling. Immune to his barbs, she soon engages him in ontological debate and -- whaddaya know! -- winds up scoring a few points in the process.

As you might gather, the success of "Lungfish" depends on the (( chemistry whipped up by the two principals, and it is here that Colonial has truly hit the mark.

Christine Asero is marvelously funny and sad as Anita. Her comic patter is delivered beautifully. The laughter quickly subsides when we see her locked in a dysfunctional relationship with Dominic, her abusive steady.

Ken Sabel, as the enraged intellectual, is especially effective in Act II after his physical agony removes the starch from the anger he vents nonstop in Act I.

Philip Restivo is a hyperactive scene-stealer as Dominic, the no-goodnik. And, Lisa Mroz makes the nurse as interesting as any character. "Lungfish" may occasionally posture and preen like one of Professor Ravenswaal's lectures, but I endorse its message wholeheartedly.

If I'm ever lucky enough to find someone reading T. S. Eliot with me on my deathbed, I won't much care how loud her gum is popping.

The show is running Thursday through Sunday evenings until Oct. 7. For ticket information, call 268-7373.

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