“Nice Fish,” the low-key Minnesota-born show about such things as ice fishing, friendship and the meaning of life, is up for an Olivier Award for best new comedy after its successful run in London.
The play, based on the prose poetry of Louis Jenkins and co-scripted by Oscar-winning star Mark Rylance (left above), premiered at the Guthrie in 2013. It was later reworked for productions in Boston and New York.
The London remount opened last fall under the direction of Claire Van Kampen, Rylance’s partner.
Twin Cities actor Jim Lichtscheidl (right) got above-the-title marquee billing alongside Rylance, who won an Academy Award for his role in the Steven Spielberg thriller “Bridge of Spies,” and who has won three Tonys (“Boeing Boeing,” “Jerusalem” and “Twelfth Night”).
Tickets to “Nice Fish” sold briskly at the Harold Pinter Theater on London’s West End, where it was extended after the show received strong reviews.
The Independent called the production “bewitching and beautifully paced,” likening the show to a “Waiting for Godot” on ice. Rylance, who plays a Wisconsin fisherman, was widely praised as was Lichtscheidl, who played his deadpan fishing buddy. The cast also included longtime Guthrie regulars Raye Birk and Bob Davis.
Poet Jenkins (pictured at right) has had an unusual path to the stage.
Rylance first showed his affection for the Minnesota poet’s writing in 2008 at the Tony Awards when, after winning his first Tony, he recited Jenkins’ “The Back Country” as his acceptance speech. After that, Rylance asked Jenkins if he had any objections to having his poems adapted for the stage.
“Of course I didn’t,” said Jenkins. “Poets don’t make any money. You have to do something else.”
Jenkins has worked as a librarian, a truck driver and a commercial fisherman.
He even became an actor for the Boston production of “Nice Fish.”
“It’s not my cup of tea,” he said. “It’s a lot of hard work, being on every night like that. I have a lot of respect for actors.”
The Oliviers will be handed out April 9. In the meantime, Jenkins has a new book of poems, “In the Sun, Out of the Wind” (Will o' the Wisp Books), that will be out shortly.
Last fall, Lichtscheidl described the experience of starring in a hit on London’s West End as “surreal.”
“You dream about this type of thing happening to you, and some people actively pursue it,” he said. “I never moved to New York to hit it big. I’ve always been happy in Minneapolis, and then to have this kind of opportunity while living at home…that’s just wonderful.”
Lichtscheidl, who got used to signing autographs and being recognized on the street, said that “Nice Fish” received bigger plaudits in London than it did in New York or Boston.
“I suspect that’s because London and Minnesota have a similar sense of humor,” he said. “The dry sardonic wit that can be found in Louis Jenkins’ poetry is the same thing that Londoners love about Mark Rylance.”
That he's had such success is gratifying for Lichtscheidl, a Lino Lakes native whose biggest childhood dream was to be a teacher. That was until a theater professor at Minnesota State University- Mankato suggested that he switch majors.
“Mine wasn’t a plotted course by any stretch,” said Lichtscheidl. “I sidestepped my way into the theater. And I’m having a blast.”
Lichtscheidl will appear at the Jungle Theater in June in the new musical “Fly by Night,” by Will Connolly, Michael Mitnick and Kim Rosenstock.