By Daniel Skora
The Detroit Repertory Theatre is presenting “Swimming Upstream”, a nice little play which centers on salmon, the fish that everyone loves to eat, even while covering a lot of extra territory in the process. Jen (Audrey Lovy) is a marine biologist working for a company that supplies government agencies with data relating to the study of our domestic fish population. In the process of earning her degree and working at her job, Jen has come to admire this mighty fish and the innate abilities nature has given it.
Salmon hatch in fresh water, migrate to the ocean, then return to fresh water to reproduce. They return to the place where they were born to spawn, often traveling a thousand miles or more. In the process, they are required to traverse obstacles such as dams, waterfalls and log jams as they journey upstream, using only their innate leaping ability and the homing memory that nature has bestowed upon them.
Like all good titles that have more than one meaning, you’ll discover that there are more than salmon swimming upstream in this World Premiere of Rich Rubin’s lighthearted comedy. Jen is thirty two and is mindful of the ticking of her biological clock. She would like nothing more than to have a meaningful relationship with a person of the opposite sex. Enter Matt (Yianni Papadimos), a graphic artist who illustrates graphic novels featuring superheros. But because Matt merely illustrates stories that someone else has written, he would jump at the chance to be able to create a superhero of his own. The play gets off to an amusing start when, on his fist dinner date with Jen, Matt decides to order salmon.
At her job, Jen discovers information that could have dire political repercussions on her company. She shares that information with Val (Stefanie Sambrano), a fellow employee who lends her support. The two have to decide whether to override their boss James (Raymond Jordan) and make the information public. Whenever things are in doubt, however, Jen can always expect her widowed mother Evelyn (Sandra Love Aldridge) to lend an ear and offer up one of her many curt replies. Evelyn likes Ronald Reagan as much as Jen likes salmon and relishes every opportunity she gets to quote the former president.
Playwright Rubin does a nice job of combining the seemingly disparate elements of a fish, a spunky biologist, a cartoon illustrator, a Reagan-esque mom whose biological clock is telling her it’s not too late to do a little swimming upstream of her own, and for good measure a dash of corporate/political intrigue. The play moves easily and briskly in and around four separate locations. But make no mistake about it. The star of this show is a fish that’s been around this planet for millions of years. With that in mind, director and set designer Harry Wetzel has given it premiere placement onstage. A lone spawning sockeye salmon (other familiar kinds being Atlantic, Chum, Chinook, Pink, and Coho), looking rather primeval with its duckbill face and rosey-red humpback body, floats majestically against a backdrop of shimmering water created by lighting designer Thomas Schraeder.
“Swimming Upstream” is a delightful comedy that manages to intertwine love, ecology, superman, Ronald Reagan and salmon. The cast is uniformly good, with Audrey Lovy’s exquisitely lovable Jen holding the reins. It’s a splendidly entertaining show made all the more better because it takes place at Detroit’s most authentic of theatres.
Costumes are by Mary Copenhagen and sound design is by Burr Huntington. Stage manager for this production is Lulu Dahl.
“Swimming Upstream” is the first offering of this, the 61st Season of The Detroit Rep. The show runs through December 23rd. Tickets are available for several subscription packages that can be purchased at any time and are good for a year from date of purchase. Visit their site at www.DetroitRepTheatre.com for more information or email them at DetRepTh@aol.com. The Detroit Repertory Theatre is located at 13103 Woodrow Wilson in Detroit.