NEW YORK (AP) — If you're wondering if you'll like Larry David's Broadway debut, "Fish in the Dark," you need to ask another question: Do you like "Curb Your Enthusiasm"?
That's because David's new stage comedy is like his 30-minute HBO show, only stretched out over two hours so that what is usually a cringe-worthy appetizer on TV has grown into a tedious and self-indulgent main course onstage.
What opened Thursday at the Cort Theatre will surely delight fans of David, the "Seinfeld" and "Curb" master of observational humor, who stars and wrote "Fish in the Dark." But it may leave others frustrated that a great cast, set and director were wasted.
It opens with a masturbation joke, goes quickly into boob-groping and never moves far from a series of routines stitched together poorly. It mean-heartedly makes fun of Haiti and, weirdly, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and spends a lot of time on incest and an illegitimate child.
There's an extended bit about whether to tip doctors and another about knocking on wood for luck. ("It's all faux!" says David at one point, exasperatedly looking for real wood in a hospital waiting room.) Gluten and Gandhi ("What the hell did he know?") come in for jokes, lamely.
The plot follows the gathering of the Drexel family in present-day California as they prepare to bid farewell to their dying patriarch. Old rivalries and still-simmering angers are reignited, which echo through the next few days. (The title of the play comes from a still-resented dinner party that featured a fish dish but too much mood lighting.) Aren't Jewish families so dysfunctional, David seems to ask? You bet!
Soon everyone hates David's Norman Drexel. He has accused a 14-year-old niece of plagiarizing a eulogy and has meddled in his daughter's love life. His overbearing mother (Jayne Houdyshell, in fine form) moves in with him, prompting his wife (a great Rita Wilson) to leave. And his housekeeper (funny Rosie Perez) comes with some shocking news from the past.
David stalks the stage like an overgrown, wiry insect — a bespectacled Daddy Longlegs comes to mind — as he stuffs his hands in his pockets or waves his arms around to sell his outrage. A self-satisfied smirk never seems far from his lips.
Todd Rosenthal's sets — well lit by Brian MacDevitt — are scrupulously rendered hospital rooms, complete with nifty elevators, and well-appointed cream-colored living rooms of the wealthy. A not-always-successful death certificate gag is projected between scenes — another cute idea that grows wearisome.
Director Anna D. Shapiro keeps the action as brisk as a sitcom but this cold fish of a play would likely have ended up on the cutting room floor if it was made for TV. Now it's on Broadway and attracting a $132 average ticket price.
Talk about the one that got away: David had a chance to do something special here with a new medium and a game cast, but he chose to spin his wheels. He chose to go faux.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits