If it looks and smells like fish, it must be The Fisherman’s Wife

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Fisherman Cooper (Maro Guevara) attempts to save his wife, Vanessa (Eliza Leoni), from the encroaching tentacle of a lustful sea creature in the world premiere of Steve Yockey’s comedy The Fisherman’s Wife at Impact Theatre. Below: Two hot cephalopods, Sarah Coykendall as the Squid and Roy Landaverde as the Octopus, provide some intermission entertainment. Photos by Mary Kay Hickox

You don’t really expect Japanese erotic tentacle art to be the inspiration for a feel-good treatise on saving a broken marriage. But that’s just what Steve Yockey delivers in the world premiere of The Fisherman’s Wife, the season opener from Berkeley’s Impact Theatre. Taking his cue from the Hokusai woodcut known as “Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife,” in which a happy lady is serviced by two octopi, Yockey spins a fast-paced, mostly comic adult fairy tale that begins with an epically unhappy husband and wife.

Cooper Minnow (Maro Guevara) is the titular fisherman. He comes from a long line of successful fisher folk, but he’s a failure. His wife, Vanessa (Eliza Leoni), couldn’t agree more. She claims her seaside life is “undercooked” and she hurls hurtful diatribes at her husband like, “I was bamboozled by the man I thought you were.” Ouch. Through Yockey’s rapid-fire dialogue, we learn all kinds of things about this marriage – that it started happily enough, that what the fisherman lacks in length he makes up for in girth (TMI?), that the wife doesn’t like the husband’s collection of girlie magazines – so much information. And none of it to be found in the Grimm fairy tale of the same name (except maybe the filthy, stinky seaside shack).

When the fisherman sets off for his boat, he encounters two mystical creatures, an Ocotpus (Roy Landaverde) and a Squid (Sarah Coykendall), both adorable, both wearing old-fashioned swimming costumes (designs by Liz Weston). They take a liking to the fisherman and have what Prince Harry might call a party with him. For whatever magical reason, the fisherman (and all the other humans in the play, it turns out), see these horny sea creatures as humans, but they’re really slimy, tentacled cephalopods. And what they call a party, the fisherman calls rape (whether it was legitimate or not can be known only by the idiot troll who goes by the name Akin, but he’s not in this particular fairy tale).

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Meanwhile, back in the stinky seaside shack, Mrs. Minnow receives a caller, a traveling salesman named Thomas Bell (the charming Adrian Anchondo), and like all good traveling salesman, he has the cure for what ails the miserable housewife, and that cure happens to be in two places: his magical Mary Poppins-like bag with untold depths, and in his pants (merch alert: his nautically themed underpants should be on sale after the show, as should his “mystical phallic hat rack”). One highlight of Thomas’ visit is the tale of his tattoo. The anchor on his arm is just an anchor, but the green fish on his chest is so involved it needs a puppet show to tell it right – and not just nay puppet show but one that involves “thick, sticky beast juice.”

Like the good storyteller he is, Yockey ensures this tale involves lots of near nudity from the attractive and very funny cast, and director Ben Randle keeps the pace brisk and laughs (and the characters) coming. It’s all in good, dirty fun, and there’s actually a message. Yockey, the author of Octopus at the Magic Theatre and Bellwether at Marin Theatre Company is clearly having a lot of fun here, but it’s almost as if he wanted to prove to Dr. Phil and all those moronic self-help gurus that you could write about saving a marriage without resorting to all those clichés about rekindling the romance or breaking down communication barriers. In Yockey’s self-help world, all a broken marriage needs is a harrowing event (maybe involving mysterious creatures from the murky deep, maybe not), a hot salesman who swings both ways (with previously mentioned attractive undergarments) and blood lust revenge.

With two acts, each about 30 minutes each, this Fisherman feels like it really wants to be a one-act (with a false intermission featuring Squid and Octopus singing Bon Jovi while accompanying themselves on accordion). The laughs are plentiful, and even though the tone is light and colorful (set against the hilarious and high-schoolish mural set by Anne Kendall), there are shadowy depths under the surface. Sure, the ending is happy, but who knows when the fisherman or his wife might start craving a little tentacle on the side?


Steve Yockey’s The Fisherman’s Wife continues through Sept. 29 at La Val’s Subterranean, 1834 Euclid Ave., Berkeley. Tickets are $10-$20. Visit http://impacttheatre.com.