At Fishtown theater, the rest of the season should be interesting

A seedy motel room. Losing a baby to child services. Drug use and prostitution. These are the topics at hand in The Walking Fish Theatre’s current production, Problem Child.

Would you ever guess it’s a comedy?

Maybe not, but the show is, indeed, being touted as “a comedy about things that aren’t funny.” The show, part of Canadian playwright George F. Walker’s six-part Suburban Motel series, takes place in the same “seedy” motel room as each of the other five shows.

Problem Child is the third in the series, which will continue to run at the Fish through next year.

The show opened in previews on Nov. 1, and will continue to run tonight and each day through Saturday. Each show is at 8 p.m. at the theater, 2509 Frankford Ave.

Tickets are $20, but tonight’s show, like every Wednesday night show at the Fish, is a special “Pay What You Can” show — contribute whatever you can afford.

Tomorrow’s show is a “Brewmaster Thursday” show; arrive at 7:30 to sample local beers.

Problem Child is directed by Stan Heleva, and stars Michelle Pauls, Matt Shell, Arumugavel Nagarajan and Gina Martino.

The show centers on Shell and Martino as R.J. and Denise, who lost their baby when Denise’s mother called child services because of her daughter’s illicit activities. The two clean up their acts a bit and work to convince their social worker, Helen — played by Pauls — that they can be good parents.

Pauls, managing artistic director for B. Someday Productions at the theatre, said the show’s subject matter makes it funny, yet poignant.

“Some of the humor is pretty out there and wacky. It’s comedy, with drama thrown in,” she said.

She said the characters and the situations in which they find themselves are very true-to-life.

“A couple people have said to us [after shows], ‘I’ve been through that, that’s exactly what it’s like.’ We’re doing truthful work, something meaningful that matters. That’s what theater’s all about.”

Shell, who plays R.J., said the Walking Fish is a good venue for the Suburban Motel series, since each play takes place in the very same “room” on stage.

“This is the perfect setting,” he said. “I would describe it as claustrophobic … these people are really in their own prison.”

Shell said his character is frustrated with Martino’s character, Denise, because she isn’t putting the same amount of effort R.J. is into getting their daughter back.

“This character got tough because he displays a lot of traits that people would shy away from,” he said. “I think he’s still doing just enough to get by. He’s a depressive character; therein lies the challenge, to become someone who clearly isn’t his best self.”

Martino said playing Denise was a bit of a roller coaster.

“Denise has so many facets … [she goes] from complete acceleration to depression,” she said. “I’m lucky to have such a supportive cast and director for that.”

She agreed that the Fish lends a crucial element of intimacy to a show like Problem Child.

“The audience is a fly on the wall into these people’s lives,” she said.

The Walking Fish will also be presenting, in December, a Christmas-themed burlesque spectacle that details the, shall we say, “unique” coming of age of Santa Claus. The Burlesque Adventures of Santa Claus: A Christmas Tale for Grownups will run from Dec. 19 through 31.

“The Christmas burlesque show is going to be a lot more fun,” Shell said with a laugh.

Visit www.bsomeday.com for more information on all shows.

Managing Editor Mikala Jamison can be reached at 215–354–3113 or at mjamison@bsmphilly.com.