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Review: The Fisherman and His Soul at Boise Contemporary Theater

Runs through Saturday, April 25

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The last in-theater play of Boise Contemporary Theater's 2014-15 season landed a keeper with The Fisherman and His Soul.

A fisherman (played by Anne McDonald) falls in forbidden love with a mermaid (Jordan Michelle Bowman), but they're unable to be together unless he divests himself of his soul. After seeking the counsel of a merchant, a priest and a witch, the fisherman learns his shadow is a manifestation of his soul, and he can cut it off with a knife. Once free of the fisherman's body—and his heart—the soul (Justin Ness Neil Brookshire) scours the globe in search of wisdom, riches and tales to lure the fisherman out of the sea.

The play is visually marvelous. In the first act, the mermaid is bedecked in LED lights and crashing waves are simulated with a lightweight sheet and a high-powered fan. However, the practical effects are a sorbet for the lighting effects dominating the second act when the fisherman's soul recounts adventures of strong-arming kings, dueling imperial guards and stealing precious treasure in elaborate shadow plays that make his tall tales larger than life.

Based on a story by Oscar Wilde, Fisherman maintains a firm grasp on weighty ideas. Wilde, who studied Greek and Roman antiquity at Oxford, was familiar with divisions of the soul and hierarchy of desires: Without a heart to guide him, the fisherman's soul appeases its basest appetites with terrible consequences. "Love," the fisherman tells his soul, "is better" than all the wisdom and riches in the world.

Fisherman was adapted to the stage and directed by Michael Baltzell and Michael Hartwell, who performed a feat in aping Wilde's fairy tale syntax and cadence. The dialogue is never tedious, and McDonald and Ness Brookshire imbue their characters with a passion transcendent of their deliberately antiquated modes of speech. An impressive original score by Sean-Patrick Valentine Dahlman illuminates the action on stage.

While Fisherman told a seamless tale, the action on stage didn't always follow suit. In one scene, the fisherman dances with a witch (also played by Bowman) with aerial silks suspended from the ceiling—a distracting and voguish anachronism. Distractions aside, Fisherman turns a simple story into a visually and audibly vibrant spectacle sure to lure in audiences.