Twin Cities performing-arts patrons have benefited from an exceptional run of provocative, poignant and engrossing shows in the past few weeks -- from touring Broadway ("Sweeney Todd") to theater for teens ("The Stones" at Children's Theatre), from homegrown works ("Warm Beer, Cold Women" and Sam Roberson's "Same Difference") to dances by Garth Fagan and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker as well as experimental work by Romeo Castellucci ("Hey Girl!" at Walker Art Center).
You can add Theatre de la Jeune Lune's "Fishtank" to this rewarding roster. The company's latest creation is fanciful and ingenious. Replete with the signature elements of a Jeune Lune show, it washes over a viewer like a dream, whimsically mixing the mundane and the wondrous.
The 90-minute show marks a return to the type of work with which Jeune Lune first made its name. Some compare it to their early hit "Yang Zen Froggs," which I did not see. But it also suggests the zany inventiveness of "The Kitchen."
Where "The Kitchen" was a madcap romp, "Fishtank" is a little more easygoing and sly. Sand, water, a vacuum cleaner and an oversize fish tank are elements in this production, which revolves around a series of pedestrian encounters and small gestures. Occupied by everyday characters (Steve Epp, Dominique Serrand, Nathan Keepers and Jennifer Baldwin Peden), the world of "Fishtank" is an impersonal, mediated loop where you get sustenance from vending machines, where your communications with government are automated and where your trustworthiness is judged not by a person but by a machine. In other words, the company shines a light on our early 21st-century existence. The humor derives from our familiarity with this life. Some of the stuff in "Fishtank" is apparent -- you can see the result coming.
Perhaps the most surprising moment is also the show's most daring. One of the running bits in the show is that the performers must pass through an airport-style security screener manned by a Baldwin Peden character. Actor Keepers triggers the red light. He takes off his shoes, his shirt, his pants, and so on, until he is in the buff. He tries to retain his privacy in a public place, to keep his dignity in front of a humorless machine.
The Jeune Lunies are often at their best when they are clowning around. It is interesting to watch them dig a hole, theatrically, then climb out of it.
"Fishtank" has a coda that seems unnecessary. And as the performers fumble with the small stuff, you hunger for a big design. But what it lacks in grand vision, it makes up with comic ingenuity.