“Fish in the Dark,” a new Broadway play written by one of my favorite curmudgeons, Larry David, is a comedy about a death in the family, slated to begin preview performances February 2. Outrageous? Cringe-worthy? Brilliant? I’m sure it will be all of the above. As well as realistic. Death elicits many emotions. Besides grief, there are giggles.
Humor was a great release in those awful first days. From the Robert stories shared to observations made, laughter was a tonic that soothed and comforted. We didn’t set out to have fun, we weren’t doing schtick…well some were (I have a very talented group of friends). If funerals are meant to be a celebration of life, laughter can only honor the deceased.
But it can cause embarrassment. While attending the wake of a friend’s mother years ago, I was standing amongst a circle of friends and laughed a bit too loud, then was struck with a self-conscious ‘WTF did I just do?’ I glanced around and caught the eye of my friend, whose mother had just passed. From across the room, he shot me his signature smile, a silent shout-out that my laughter wasn’t inappropriate, but heartwarming.
When we’re grieving, we need more than hugs and condolences. Each person in your life (friend, relative, acquaintance, colleague, neighbor) has their own special connection to you. Everyone brings something different to the table. There are those with whom you can cry. Others are fun junkies forcing you to feel good. Some keep you focused and positive. Still others are task-oriented, helping with details.
When seeing someone for the first time after the death of a loved one, that initial meeting is usually awash in tears. During Robert’s wake, my friend Howard’s first words weren’t ‘I’m sorry’ (though he was) or ‘how awful’ (though it was). Instead, he opened with: “My mission here is to make you laugh.” He was one of many who did.
Interspersed with tears, devastation, anger and moments of sheer terror, were laughs, chuckles, giggles and snorting-ugly-guffaws.
I’m looking forward to “Fish in the Dark.” Larry has dabbled in death before: swapping golf clubs in a casket (“The 5 Wood”); swapping letters in an obituary (“Beloved Aunt”); and dying himself post-op, giving a kidney to a friend (“The End”). I’m excited to see Larry brave the topic up close and personal on the stage – The Emmy Award-winning writer also stars in the show. Will it be a train wreck of a eulogy? Will he unintentionally let slip a secret of the deceased’s? Unknowingly hit on the deceased’s daughter? Get caught having sex with the widow? I can already imagine myself squirming in my seat.