(l to r) Andrew Pastides as son Andrew and Rod Gnapp as dad Leo have a quiet moment in the final scene of Goldfish.

GOLDFISH by John Kolvenbach, directed by Loretta Greco. Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco (parking lot entrance at Marina Blvd and Buchanan Street). 415-441-8822 or October 7 – November 8, 2009


To open its 2009-2010 season, Magic Theatre elected to perform two of John Kolvenbach’s plays in repertory with characters, in or mentioned in Goldfish, to appear in the world premiere of Mrs. Whitney. You may choose to see each short 90-minute play on separate nights or both on special nights. Earlier this year, Loretta Greco directed the world premier of Goldfish at South Coast Repertory Theatre. Magic’s Goldfish production is well worth seeing since director Greco and stage crew create continuity where confusion might reign during the 14 scenes, some only a few minutes long.

Early in the play single parent, Leo (Rod Gnapp), tells his 19-year-old son Albert (Andrew Pastides) goldfishes are a popular pet for children but it is also a very stupid pet capable of gorging itself to death if overfed. The imagery carries over to the dysfunctional relationship in the two families Kolvenbach has created. Even though the author is the darling of English theatregoers and has a slew of successes to his credit, the construction of this play would not receive a passing grade in a college playwriting class. He relies on extensive questions and answers to define character and it is only because his actors are superb performers that he is able to make it work. The play needs depth and the author should teach the goldfish to scuba dive. Apparently, Kolvenbach is fascinated with animal metaphors since he also adds a bird and antelope story.

There really is no protagonist since the author has given equal weight to son Albert and his father Leo and to daughter Lucy (Anna Bullard) and her mother Mrs. Whitney (Patricia Hodges). Nineteen-year-old obsessive-compulsive Albert is heading off to college leaving his irresponsible father behind. Before Albert departs, he attempts to instruct Leo about the detailed financial arrangements he has set up to prevent depletion of their finances. We later learn Leo has a perpetually losing gambling habit.

At college, equally dysfunctional Lucy with whom he, in his rigid way, falls in love accosts Albert. Their meeting and funky courtship is both humorous and touching. In a meeting of evasive questions and answers, we learn of Lucy’s parent problem when she returns home during Thanksgiving break to be with her alcoholic mother. Mrs. Whitney forbids Lucy to continue the relationship. Unfortunately, the early promise of a wacky/fantastic scene dissipates when Hodges inexplicably does not project her voice even to the first row of the audience.

Complications arise when “pugnacious” Leo who is deep in debt to gamblers, calls the College Dean to inform him there is no money for the next semester’s tuition. Albert’s return home allows Kolvenbach to write two dramatic scenes for Leo and Albert that Gnapp and Pastides nail. Patricia Hodges shows sparks of brilliance that needs to be nurtured, especially if she will be the lead in Mrs. Whitney the sequel to Goldlfish. Anna Bullard envelopes her kooky role with authenticity.

The staging (sets by Michael Locher, lighting by York Kennedy and sound design by Sara Huddleston) and Greco’s direction are outstanding. Magic’s production values and the top-notch cast create a not to be missed evening.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of