Feeding the Moonfish
Feeding the Moonfish is a one-act play by Barbara Wiechmann, first performed in New York in 1988. The work is a brief study of two very unlikely companions and the powerful, life-transforming bond they form in the course of one evening. This compelling story draws on the power of natural forces, the tragedy of murder, the importance of memory, and the magical influence of the stars to shape the characters and provide a solid framework for the play. Although there are no direct references anchoring the setting in any given time period, the tone of the work reflects the social malaise of the 1980s, characterized by the advent of AIDS, Chernobyl, and the Iran Contra Affair. Despite its economy in form, Feeding the Moonfish has the power to illuminate a brief moment in time, demonstrating that an innocent exchange between strangers can change everything.
Much of Wiechmann's contemporary life and works are not formally chronicled; however, Feeding the Moonfish is included in Eric Lane's Telling Tales: New One Act Plays. Published in 1993, the work is a compendium of contemporary one-act plays from some of today's best playwrights in contemporary theater.
Barbara Wiechmann grew up in Middle Haddam, Connecticut and attended Hamilton College before Page 56 | Top of Article moving to New York where she resides as a writer and performer. She has written several plays, including Feeding the Moonfish, The Holy Mother of Hadley, New York, and The Secret of the Steep Ravines. Her work has been produced and workshopped at P.S. 122, the Ensemble Studio Theatre, New York Theatre Workshop, BACA Downtown, HERE, the Ohio Theatre, and the Samuel Beckett Theatre. Her work has also surfaced at the Edinburgh, New York, Philadelphia, and Seattle fringe festivals (a wide variety of unjuried and uncensored theatre). In addition to her regular appearances at the New York Theatre Workshop, Wiechmann is also a New Georges affiliated artist and has been a longstanding member of the Arden Theatre Company. She is an NYSCA grant recipient and a Jane Chambers Award finalist.
The setting for Feeding the Moonfish is a dock on a saltwater lake in southern Florida. The action takes place in one evening. As the play opens, the audience hears two or three long whistles and then a series of overlapping voices. "Martin, Martin, Martin," chant the voices of the moonfish as they welcome him "home." Martin responds as if he has indeed returned from a long journey. Martin asks (referring to his father): "Can I see him? I want to see him." The moonfish ignore his persistent requests, instructing him to close his eyes and "Tell us we're beautiful."
Martin tells the moonfish about a dream where he was flying in a plane. He describes it in great detail, from the moment he hits the mattress and "some stewardess is strapping me in." He takes a flight into a deep blue sky, and it's as if he were levitating or floating weightlessly "in blue heaven." He describes a flight complete with "movies, brunettes and cocktail almonds." After he shares his dream, Martin tells them that he is "home," his memories are "hot and heavy." The moonfish then ask him to put his face in the water, Martin responds and asks to see "pieces of him" floating in the coral.
Eden arrives, breaking the hypnotic trance evoked by the chanting of Martin and the moonfish. She is curious, while Martin is defensive, demanding to know how long she has been standing there. Eden admits to stowing away in the back of Martin's car, curious to see where he goes after work. She explains her actions, saying, "you sweat to death side by side of someone … an they never speak a word to you, never pass the time of day, never basically even look at you, an you get curious—you know?" And, Martin concludes that waitresses are "all alike," telling Eden that she merely seeks attention.
Eden protests Martin's order that she "go home," claiming that she could be "harassed or raped or chopped up or worse." She does not understand why Martin is not flattered by her attention, nor does she understand his fascination with the rotting dock or the fish in the water. She asks what the huge fish are called and responds with skepticism when Martin tells her that the moonfish feed off the dock at night when the moon shines, explaining:
"The moon's got a force, an it pulls an pulls at the insides of these fish and locks em into a way of behaving," he tells her. "They got no minds of their own anymore. Once the moon's got em they're hopeless beyond all control. All they got is moon minds."
Eden continues to ask questions, and Martin responds by turning the conversation back to her and her own personal history. Eden shares that her father was beaten to death and that her mother and grandmother are responsible; however, only her mother went to prison. Her grandmother is under surveillance in a nursing home. Martin suggests, "There must be some place you go home to—I'll take you home O.K.?" but Eden holds fast to her conviction that home is not a safe place.
Eden turns the conversation back to Martin, asking him "Do you think there are forces between us?" She asks him to kiss her, and he violently rejects her. Eden voices her displeasure, telling Martin he does not appreciate her, that he treats her like a "disease," some "piece of filth." But when Eden walks off, Martin is left alone, and he pleads with her to return.
The voices of the moonfish come back in chorus, and they ask Martin to picture the water. Martin shares with them his concern for Eden's safety; he fears he might harm her. The fish respond, "Nothing can happen you don't want to happen. If you make the pictures." Again, they beckon him to the water, assuring him that he will not drown and tell him that he will "see his shadow on the end of the pier," calling him to see his father and to "watch the moonfish feed."
Eden returns to the dock with an old sleeping bag and a couple of beers only to be chastised for swearing and for stealing the alcohol from the restaurant. Martin softens, and they sit and drink as Eden shares her affinity for the nighttime. Martin opens up to her and tells her the history of the docks: "The living things were all dying," he says. "But not anymore. The moonfish are making a comeback." When Martin shares that the fishermen who frequented the dock were responsible for the slaughter of many fish, Eden abruptly turns the conversation and asks Martin, "do you think my mom's having an O.K. time behind bars?"
Martin responds with complete disbelief to her candor, and he asks Eden to recount the details of her father's death. The audience learns that although her mother tried to kill her father, it was her grandmother that "dealt the actual death blow." When Martin asks why they did it, Eden shares that her father "used to beat on my mom on a semi-regular basis" and her grandmother and mother were "merely killing him out of self-defense." Martin also learns that it was really Eden's stepfather, not her natural father, who was killed.
When Martin asks if the murder bothered her, Eden recalls the day she found out about it and admits that it did in fact upset her. When Eden mentions that as the police questioned her, others may have thought she was "psycho." Martin assures Eden that she is not "psycho" then scolds her for wanting a joint. Eden responds excitedly to his lack of understanding. When Martin tells her to calm down, Eden exclaims that "of course" she is "worked up," she has been trying to make a new friend only to be ignored. "There's no rational way to account for the disgusting things I've seen in my life," says Eden.
Martin tells her she is not alone and that he in fact shares a similar past. They begin trading one shocking family secret for the next until Martin reveals that his father slit his own throat. Eden becomes quiet. Martin apologizes and offers her something to eat and then ends up chastising her for her poor behavior in front of the men that frequent the restaurant. Eden tells him that he "shouldn't talk" because she heard "what you done to girls … to that girl."
The two continue to argue as Martin accuses Eden of lying and Eden defiantly telling him she knows of his improprieties with a certain inebriated, young woman whom Martin let wander around on the docks. She accuses Martin of standing by and watching the woman drown. The climax comes when Martin protests and moves to strike Eden but does not.
The tension shifts again as Eden explains the strange relationship between her mother and stepfather. Although her mother helped kill her stepfather, Eden maintains there was love between them. Despite the beatings, Eden claims that "Forces was pulling em—just like them fish—only they could feel emotional pain in their minds too so it was worse." She then tells Martin that there is nothing he could do, no horrific act that could change her feelings toward him.
Martin then tells Eden he thinks she is a little sick but she assures him that he is in good company. Then Eden reveals to him that she likes him and that he has a beautiful face, and the two fantasize about their escapes. Eden wants to leave Florida while Martin's utopia is a place where he cannot see the heat, where he can "see the lake clear down to its floor" and the ocean floor is "sand white," its creatures "huger and wilder."
He shares with Eden the former beauty the docks once held for him and the nights spent watching the moonfish with his father. He tells Eden that the fish talk, and she tries to hear them. Then the two settle down on the docks for a night's sleep, and, as Eden settles into Martin's arms, he tells her of his dream in which he is waiting for his father. In the dream, Martin's father comes to him, picks him up in his arms, and takes him to the docks to watch the fish feed in the stillness and complete darkness of the night without the force of the moon.
As Martin continues, his voice along with the moonfish rise in chorus recounting the activity. Martin shares a vision he has of his father cutting his own throat then falling to Martin's feet. In his dream, Martin pushes the body into the lake and the fish come to feed. Martin then reveals that his mother left his father, an event he identifies as the ultimate cause for his father's suicide.
As the scene ends, Martin tells Eden his dreams about a man and woman. Although they have nothing to do with his life, he imagines inflicting harm on the man. Eden listens, asking him to stroke her hair and to tell her she is beautiful. Martin obeys, his hand momentarily lingering on her throat as if to choke her. He then begins to stroke it and tells her, "You're beautiful, you're so beautiful."
Sixteen-year-old Eden, the play's antihero, is wise for her years. She is also a troubled teen whose fascination and free spirit lead her to stow away under a sleeping bag in the backseat of Martin's car. She is daring and defiant, insisting that she get to know Martin, despite his strong reprimands and protestations that she go home. In several instances, the not-so-typical teen demonstrates a disregard for authority. After Martin's initial objection, Eden boldly walks off, only to re-emerge with the sleeping bag and a couple beers the under-age teen has stolen from the restaurant where she and Martin work. Eden also demonstrates a surprisingly cavalier attitude about her dysfunctional family when she tells Martin about the murder of her father in matter-of-fact manner. While many people would be reluctant to share distasteful family history, Eden is forthcoming about her mother's and grandmother's incarcerations.
Eden is a multidimensional character who functions in several ways in the play. She is a foil to Martin. Both characters have experienced the loss of one parent at the hands of another. Martin responds to his tragedy by returning to the docks and by continuing to live this episode of his life in a kind of dream state. Eden appears to have accepted her father's death at the hands of her mother and grandmother. Her perceptions of the tragedy are firmly rooted in reality. Despite her mother and grandmother's crime, they remain blameless in Eden's eyes. She recognizes that the family dynamics of her mother and stepfather's relationship, while abusive, were complex, exonerating her mother and grandmother from any wrongdoing. Eden embraces her past and moves on.
Eden is also Martin's connection to the real world and a means by which he makes a psychic return to that world. She demonstrates that it is possible to make peace with the past, no matter how troubled. She is the vehicle by which Martin can finally share (for the first time) the events of his father's death and his feelings surrounding it. More importantly, Eden is there for Martin. She insists on staying with him unconditionally, and she is the one person who enables him to make peace with his past.
Haunted by his father's suicide, a twenty-something Martin returns to the docks on a saltwater lake in southern Florida to commune with the moonfish, spiritually connect with his father, and resolve his troubled past. He is quiet and cool, absorbed by his loss. In his grief, he is prone to isolation and is withdrawn at work. When Eden comes around, he is more interested in getting rid of her than he is in getting to know her.
An unfortunate past dictates Martin's present life. He appears to lead an ethereal existence, returning to the docks often, driven to reconnect with his father and the events of his past. He often speaks to the moonfish, responding to them as if they were human, pleading with them to reunite him with his father. These imagined conversations do not necessarily suggest the workings of an insane mind but constitute a divine connection Martin has with his father. It is clear that he has not resolved the events at the dock nor his feelings surrounding his father's suicide. The events surrounding his father's death consume him and compel him to sleep at the docks night after night.
Martin's past has also shaped his perceptions of women and romantic love. He identifies his mother as the villain in his parent's relationship and holds her accountable for his father's death. Martin believes that by leaving her marriage, his mother drove his father into the loneliness that led to suicide. His anger toward his mother manifests itself in his treatment of women, and he may or may not have an abusive history with women. At one point in the play, Eden brings up Martin's reputation for cruelty and his connection to an inebriated, young woman who drowned in the water near the docks. Martin also demonstrates a dislike for women in his interactions with Eden. One moment he is protective, the next, cruelly pushing her away and criticizing her choice in clothing.
The moonfish are not visible characters but appear to be imagined voices that can be considered a part of Martin's subconscious. The voices are nurturing and distinctly female, welcoming Martin to the dock: "Did you have a long day at work? Are you tired? … We're so happy you're home." The voices are also anxious, possessive, and all consuming. They distract Martin from his memories by demanding flattery, pleading with him to "Talk to us," "Tell us we're beautiful," in turn promising to deliver the vision of Martin's father.
The moonfish have several functions in the play. They are a connection to Martin's father, a Page 59 | Top of Article reminder of happier times spent on the docks. Because of the memories they evoke, the moonfish appear to be a gateway to the divine. They stir in Martin the final recollections of his father and are a way to keep his father alive in his memory. The moonfish also exhibit qualities of Martin's mother, personifying, for him, all that is female. They symbolize all that his mother means to him: abandonment and the catalyst for his father's loneliness. Like his mother, the moonfish present a formidable barrier to his father by demanding his attention.
Elements of the astrological sign Pisces are consistent with those in the play, explaining Martin's character traits, motivations, and his relationship with Eden. The element water, the color blue and the moon tarot card all relate to Pisces. Pisces is symbolized by two fish swimming in a harmonious circle. Like the symbol, the relationship between Martin and Eden is a harmonious one. When Eden is up, Martin is down and vice versa. Key elements related to Pisces—the moon, the water, the fish, and the color blue—dot the play. This forms the basis for Wiechmann's story: the setting takes place on the docks by the water, the moonfish play a central role in Martin's subconscious and the color blue is mentioned in the "blue heaven" of Martin's dreams. Martin is prone to many Piscean traits, which is demonstrated in his deep regard for dreams and his intensely sensitive nature. Like Pisces, Martin's continual struggle to resolve his conflicting desires for isolation and companionship are played out in his relationship with Eden. The moment Eden arrives at the docks Martin rejects her and insists that she leave. When it seems that Eden has finally complied with his request to leave him alone, Martin tells her, "You don't have to leave.… Don't leave." References to the sun sign also give the work a cosmic unity from which Wiechmann implies a connection with the divine. An attraction to the moon compels the moonfish, Martin, and Eden to go to the docks. The forces of the moon govern the appearance of the moonfish, evoking memories that help Martin reconnect with his deceased father. "Natural things are moved by forces, see. The moon's got a force," he explains to Eden. Comparing herself to the moonfish, Eden suggests that she and Martin "was being zapped right now by outside forces." It is in this supernatural attraction that Martin and Eden find each other and ultimately make peace with their troubled pasts.
Memory and Reminiscence
It is through Martin and Eden's memories that the audience comes to understand the tragic deaths that drive both of their lives and ultimately bring them together. Martin's memories of his father also drive him, fueling his deep and desperate need to remain connected to a happier past. His desire to revisit his childhood compels him to return to the docks night after night. "I am waiting for my father. I sleep alone here," confesses Martin. Martin's memories comfort him, and his visits to the docks evoke dreams of his father: "I feel him lift me up and up and his arms rock me and his voice in my ear." Martin's dreams also haunt him. Memories ultimately lead Martin to a vision of his father's suicide. By recounting his dreams and memories of his father to Eden, Martin is set free. He unburdens himself of the suicide. In sharing his secrets, Martin is able to separate himself from his troubled past, as evidenced in his words to Eden, "You listen to me tell you this. You listen to me, and you just sit there like it was nothing. Like it was natural."
Both Eden and Martin's lives are affected by tragic murders. Eden's mother and grandmother worked together to kill her stepfather, which resulted in her mother's incarceration. In recounting the moment she found out about the murder, Eden cites her reasons for being upset: "I got questioned by the police for three days.… my friends think I'm a psycho." Although his father's death is a suicide, Martin sees it as murder at the hands of his mother because she abandoned them, and Martin shares that his father "was so lonely for her." Eden accepts the murder of her stepfather as a natural consequence of a relationship with her mother while Martin lives a life of blame, acting out the anger he has toward his mother on other women. Together, Eden and Martin find a common bond in their tragedies, helping Martin to make peace with his father's death.
Forces of Nature
Martin, Eden, and the moonfish are all significantly connected by forces of nature. The moonfish, Page 60 | Top of Article as explained by Martin, come out at night, drawn to the moon by an unseen force to feed at the edge of the docks: "The moon's got a force, an it pulls and pulls at the insides of these fish.… All they got is moon minds." Forces seem to be at work within Martin as he is captivated by the beauty of the fish and their ability to stir within him fond memories of his father. Eden acknowledges these forces working in humankind and declares to Martin that there are forces guiding both their lives.
Eden unknowingly draws a parallel between herself and the fish before Martin has a chance to explain their peculiar habits: "I think I come out at night—you know—like a creature." The same forces compelling the fish are at work within Eden, transforming her personality. They are also the very same forces that Eden uses to justify her parents extremely dysfunctional relationship. Ultimately, these forces draw Eden and Martin to each other and create a union with the power to transform and heal them both.
Eden is anything but a typical hero. A hero, by definition, demonstrates admirable traits such as idealism, courage, and integrity. Eden does not. She infringes on Martin's privacy without regard for his feelings by stowing away in the back of his car. The underage teen manages to steal two beers for the trip from her employer. When Eden's classmate successfully shoplifts "four bikinis, a princess phone and two Cheryl Tiegs jogging outfits," she tells Martin with admiration, "you gotta admit—she did something."
Because Eden severely lacks traditional hero values, she feels helpless in a world over which she has no control. Eden's world is an unforgiving place, providing all of the justification she needs to make her own rules. "There's no rational way to account for the disgusting things I've seen in my Page 61 | Top of Article life," she tells Martin. Despite her disregard for authority, her inappropriate, if not excessive, candor about her dysfunctional family life and brusque persona, Eden manages to reach Martin significantly enough to inspire a profound change in his character in the course of one evening.
Feeding the Moonfish is a one-act play following strict rules of dramatic structure. It follows Aristotle's most important principles of drama: the unities of action, time and place. These three principles compel a dramatist to construct a single plot that details the causal relationships of action and character, restricts the action to the events of a single day, and limits the scene to a single place or city. The action in Wiechmann's play takes place on a dock in Florida in a single evening. The plot begins with Martin's appearance on the docks followed by an emotional tangle he has with Eden that eventually brings them to a mutual understanding and peace. As the plot unfolds, the audience discerns what motivates both Martin and Eden to behave toward each other in somewhat predictable ways. Martin is upset about his father's suicide, even paralyzed by it, while Eden feels free to share with Martin the details of her stepfather's murder without affect. This exchange provides Martin with the outlet he needs to share his feelings with Eden and put the past behind him. "There's nothing I could tell you that you'd think was crazy," says an amazed Martin as he realizes Eden is there for him. In keeping with modern drama, the work is concerned with the unity of impression. The audience is left with the impression that Martin has for the first time openly shared his feelings about his father's death, with positive results, and his disturbing behavior along with Eden's troubled history hit their emotional mark. As the mismatched pair makes a connection, the audience is left with several problems to resolve: an inappropriate relationship between the two and the task of reconciling Martin's abusive history with women with his apparent rehabilitation at the play's conclusion, which is demonstrated in his refusal to harm Eden.
Point of View
The events of the play are presented from the third-person point of view. The audience is left to interpret the action without any special insight into the characters' minds or motivations. Martin's imagined conversations with the moonfish could arguably be a window into the mind of his psyche, or they may be unexplained, supernatural events. Whether imagined or real, at no time do they provide the audience with sufficient insight into Martin's motivations. The play's conclusion supports this assertion; it is defined by Martin's gentle stroking, rather than choking, of Eden's neck. The suspense surrounding his choice to comfort rather than harm Eden is heightened by the audience's uncertainty and lack of knowledge.
After Eden returns with the sleeping bag and beer, her conversation with Martin becomes increasingly complex as emotions heat up. Eden begins to share the intimate details of and her reaction to her father's murder. In doing so, Eden expresses her vulnerability. Martin criticizes her, Eden responds, and the two go back and forth, exchanging insults. Martin criticizes Eden for wearing skimpy clothing at the restaurant, while Eden provokes Martin, questioning him about his rumored mis-treatment of women. The tension building between the two leads to the climax as Martin goes to strike Eden and then stops himself.
At the end of the play, Martin undergoes a dramatic shift in perception which is demonstrated in his responses to Eden. He expresses admiration for Eden, for her unconditional friendship, and for her ability to truly listen to him. More importantly, in the closing moments of the play, Martin moves his hands from maintaining a chokehold on Eden's neck to gently stroking it. His anger toward his mother has resolved itself.
The 1980s brought a lot of uncertainty. The economy was unstable, communism and the cold war still loomed large, and Americans were losing confidence in the president. It is against this backdrop that Weichmann wrote Feeding the Moonfish. While there are no direct references to the time period, the play does express an element of uncertainty as to the Page 62 | Top of Article true nature of subjects ranging from marriage to the nature of the characters themselves and, by extension, of life in the twentieth century.
In 1981, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) was discovered by physicians. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), a virus that attacks white blood cells and T4 lymphocytes, causes AIDS by weakening the body's immune system, leaving it vulnerable to infection. In the early 1980s, the infection was consistently appearing in homosexuals or intravenous drug users. Many felt that the disease was in fact a "gay" disease, sparking misdirected moral attacks on the homosexual community. Sadly, President Reagan failed to respond to the epidemic, and the disease would take countless numbers of victims before AIDS activists raised public awareness almost a decade later.
The Berlin Wall
The Reagan Presidency signaled the end of the cold war. Some credit the collapse of the Soviet Union to President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative program and his pressure tactics, while others Page 63 | Top of Article attribute the nation's demise to financial strain. Many attribute Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika (economic reform) and glasnost (new openness), which changed the face of Eastern Europe, for eventually contributing to the dissolve of communism in East Germany. The biggest symbol of this dark time in history was the Berlin Wall, a barrier dividing East and West Berlin, the communist and the free world. The wall, once heavily guarded, was dismantled in 1989, as Gorbachev, President Reagan, and East German guards looked on.
Disaster at Chernobyl
The third largest city in the Soviet Union, Chernobyl, was home to a major nuclear power plant. On April 26, 1986, an experiment with the plant's nuclear reactor number 4 led to an unmanageable atomic chain reaction. The results were catastrophic. Tons of radioactive material were released causing an estimated twenty-five thousand premature deaths. The fallout was ten times that of Hiroshima and was predicted to cause eleven times the cancer deaths as those resulting from the 1945 bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. The disaster prompted concerns regarding the safe maintenance and operation of nuclear-power facilities.
In another grand military scheme, President Reagan made a secret arms deal with Iran in exchange for the release of American hostages being held in Lebanon. Portions of the proceeds from the deal secretly went to fund the Contras, people who were working to overthrow the Sandinista government. Congress publicly rejected such activity, making it not only illegal but unconstitutional. The scheme came under Congressional investigation, uncovering a trail that led to National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, President Reagan, and Oliver North. In the end, President Reagan would walk away from the incident unscathed while Oliver North's initial convictions were eventually set aside. All were pardoned by President George Bush.
Strategic Defense Initiative
Characterized by some as President Reagan's most ambitious military spending plan, the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), or "Star Wars" as it was referred to by critics, proposed using orbiting weapons systems to attack incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles before they had a chance to strike. Much of the technology President Reagan suggested was not in development, yet President Reagan and Bush invested $30 billion in the program. Many objectors feared that, in addition to placing a huge financial strain on the nation, the program violated the Antiballistic Missile Treaty of 1972 and made the prospect of thermonuclear war more likely.
Reagan and Reaganomics
Known as the "Great Communicator," President Ronald Reagan based his 1980 bid for the Presidency on policies consistent with his performance as Governor of California; he would cut taxes and downsize big government to end stagflation (inflation without increase in demand or employment). President Reagan supported David Stockman's conservative economic policy called supply-side economics, a belief that government policy could stimulate production. Specifically, it was a belief that supply creates demand. Government would encourage production by reducing taxes and deregulation of industry. Out of this economic policy came the term "trickle down," a belief that by relieving the tax burdens of the wealthy money would trickle down to the American public, stimulating business investment, increasing employment opportunities, and improving the economy.
The resulting policies have been dubbed "Reaganomics." Ultimately, they did very little to stimulate the economy, neither increasing production nor consumption. Instead, President Reagan's policies provided a means for the rich to gain even more wealth. Companies chose to engage in corporate acquisitions and mergers, which meant huge profits for their investors.
Feeding the Moonfish is one of Wiechmann's more familiar plays and perhaps the only one to make it to mainstream print. Although very little is written about the play, selected criticism on Wiechmann's The Holy Mother of Hadley, New York provides some insight into the playwright's critical reception. In a critical review, Matthew Murray is at times complementary, calling the "situation Wiechmann has created … an interesting one," characterizing the work as being "mostly touching and inspiring as a portrait of small town life and religion in the modern age." However, he is equally condemning of Wiechmann's consideration of miracles in everyday life. Referring to the characters in Page 64 | Top of Article the play, Murray says, "Their author could stand to pay more attention to her own words." In another review, Martin Denton, while praising the production, states that "It's unfortunate that, for me at least, none of this effort provides much in the way of elucidation," yet admits, "those seeing the play after September 11 may well react differently to it than I did." It is important to remember amid this criticism that Feeding the Moonfish, while rarely the target of critical reception, appears in a notable collection of one-act plays along with some of the greatest playwrights of the twenty-first century.
Carter is currently employed as a freelance writer. In this essay, Carter considers how the zodiac influences Wiechmann's work.
Taken from a literal perspective, Weichmann's Feeding the Moonfish is a one-act human drama capturing the moving relationship between Martin and Eden, as the unlikely pair connect, forming an intensely powerful, life-changing bond that ultimately transforms them both. Examining the work from an astrological perspective, however, gives the play a harmonious depth.
Pisces is the twelfth sign of the zodiac and is symbolized by two fish positioned in harmony to one another. Pisces's element is water, its color blue, and its related tarot card the moon. Sensitive Pisces experience an intense inner life, possess a strong imagination, and are deeply influenced by the subconscious in daily life. Pisces are often pulled in opposite directions, struggling to reconcile a need for social activity and a tendency toward isolation in search of their inner selves. Their lives are strongly impacted by childhood memories and the vividness of their own dreams, so vivid that it is hard for Pisces to reconcile whether or not they are real. They often act too late in situations, leaving them to deal with feelings of regret.
Several elements of the play are consistent with Pisces. Martin and Eden's relationship mirrors the symbol of the two fish which is reminiscent of the yin and yang symbol. Like Pisces, Martin is drawn to the water. His happiest memories with his father are related to the water and time spent on the docks. The moon also plays a crucial role in the play. Martin explains to Eden the hold moonlight has over the fish: "natural things are moved by forces see. Like the moon." These forces also tie Martin to a spot on the docks, compelling him to return night after night to make a connection with his father. Eden acknowledges these forces at work among people and asks Martin to consider the possibility of "being zapped right now by outside forces." In a dream in which Martin is in an airplane, he refers to a blue sky "so deep you could just tumble into it."
Personality traits defining Pisces resemble Martin's character. His dialogue on the docks with the moonfish demonstrates his imaginative side. Martin returns to conjure up memories of his father, sharing with Eden how he spends his evenings at the docks, "Each night I dream and in my dream I see him. Warmer, more real than life." The vividness of Martin's dreams leaves a lasting impression on him. Deeply feeling and sensitive, he remains connected to his childhood. He has been harboring feelings about his mother, causing him to act out in inappropriate or abusive ways toward women. One minute he is protective of Eden, telling her that she should not walk around in the dark alone and in the next he is accusing her of being "just a plain come-on." Martin is constantly fighting his urge to be alone with his memories and the longing for social interaction.
Like Pisces, Martin demonstrates a propensity to act when it is too late and the resulting failures are painful for him. This is best exemplified in what Eden has revealed about Martin's relationships with women. She accuses him of watching a young, inebriated woman wander off the dock and into the water then choosing to stand by and watch her drown. Martin reacts emphatically, telling Eden to "Shut up. Shut up." Earlier on, the audience is privileged to Martin's deepest fears about harming Eden. When he shares his concerns with the moonfish, they intimate that he has the power to keep her safe: "Nothing can happen you don't want to happen." Together, these events betray a great remorse in Martin and a desire to reinvent himself. He does not hide his past transgressions or fears; instead, he is eager to put them behind him.
The rhythms Martin and Eden move to can also be explained in astrological terms, providing the underlying framework for Wiechmann's play. British astrologer Richard Hills's interpretation of Pisces is very revealing in this regard. He prefaces his online description of Pisces with an explanation of Page 65 | Top of Article how "life began in the garden of Eden, in Paradise in perfect harmony with the divine." Recalling the biblical Fall, it is the one act of disobedience that causes us to become conscious of ourselves and to lose our place in Paradise. The result, says Hills, is that we became fully human. Eventually, God restores the relationship through the advent of Christ in a more complete way than had man never left Paradise. According to Hills, Pisces straddles the divide between the human and the divine. Further, Hills states, "More than any other sign, perhaps Pisces experiences normal human life as limited, for it excludes so much that can make life more complete." Hills adds that "Some may attempt to live as if this exclusion from Paradise had never happened, and live life in a constant daydream, totally ineffective in the world as it is."
Applying Hills's theories to the play raise some interesting questions. Is Martin prone to insane muttering or does he, in truth, have a connection to the divine? If the moonfish are a means of connection with the divine, the promise to deliver Martin's father, in spirit or in flesh, becomes a reality. Certainly, examining the work from this perspective would account for the openness in which Martin approaches the docks every evening. He does not stop to question whether what he is doing is crazy or not and is not afraid to share with Eden that he does in fact have elaborate conversations with the fish.
Hills also notes that because they have a sense of otherworldliness about them, Pisces are still subject to live a life in a world of limitations. Coming to terms with a life separate from Paradise poses a problem for them. Martin struggles with his need to isolate himself on the docks every evening. He is haunted by his past and can only find pleasure in his memories of his father, memories in which he feels safe, complete, and loved. His entire objective for returning to the docks is to recapture this closeness that he feels, to "see" his father, to feel the power of that relationship in his life.
Other Pisces are able to overcome their desire to dwell among the divine. According to Hills, they successfully live in the "human arena" by infusing it with divine meaning. Eden lives in this "human arena" and looks to her reality to create her own paradise on Earth. She sees her relationship with Martin as a matter of forces working between them as Martin does with the moonfish. The difference between Eden and Martin is that Eden has come to terms with her parents' relationship, explaining its dysfunctional nature as just part of their own unique
interaction, just something they "do." She sees no victims in her stepfather's murder, only people drawn together by destiny:
Gravity was pulling em to each other. Forces was pulling em—just like them fish—only they could feel emotional pain in their minds too so it was worse. They was real helpless. They couldn't change nothing though. They couldn't change, see.
Eden's view is new and different for Martin. He has lived in a tortured world up to this point, with very little forgiveness for his mother, and, on some level, perhaps even for his father for committing suicide and, therefore, abandoning him. Eden's view grounds Martin. He begins to see the situation in a different way. He begins to forgive. Martin becomes part of an open, honest exchange with Eden, indicating that he has left some of the anger toward his mother behind him. This is confirmed in the gratitude he expresses toward Eden and his ability to resist the inclination to strangle her.
By opening up to Eden, Martin has opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for himself and has gained insight into how he has perceived his life up to this point. Reaching out to Eden has healed him and made him whole in some way as demonstrated Page 66 | Top of Article by his transformation at the end of the play. The sudden communion between Eden and Martin is surprising given Martin's tendencies to isolate himself at work and Eden's insinuation into his life by dishonest means. It satisfies Martin's desperate need for some sort of human connection, affirming that he has been alone with his own emotional pain for far too long. Beyond physical symbols and personal traits, the relationship between Martin and Eden has a seamless, melodious quality to it. Both characters demonstrate an astrological affinity toward one another. Eden is flighty, impulsive, intense, and unpredictable, yet Martin seems to anticipate and know how to respond to her. Despite Martin's tendency toward isolation, Eden is able to draw out his darkest personal feelings about his father's suicide and offer him solace.
In keeping with Wiechmann's other works, Feeding the Moonfish creates a delightful tension, challenging the audience to reach beyond conventional understanding, to see the world in divine order, a world influenced by the stars. Both Eden and Martin, while on the surface appear to be deeply disturbed individuals, are deeply interconnected. Their union, at least for the moment, serves to reconcile their misgivings about themselves and about each other. Together, they strike a balance between the earthly and the divine. It is in this heavenly relationship that the play ultimately finds its unity.
Laura Carter, Critical Essay on Feeding the Moonfish, in Drama for Students, Thomson Gale, 2005.
Axelrod, Alan, The Complete Idiot's Guide to 20th Century American History, Alpha Books, 1999, pp. 395–410.
"Barbara Wiechmann," www.newdramatists.org/barbara_wiechmann.htm (accessed November 8, 2004).
Carney, James, and John F. Dickerson, "Taking Aim at 2004: Can Bush Win a Second Term Running on a Platform of Tanks and Tax Cuts? An Inside Look at the Playbook for the 2004 Presidential Campaign," in Time, Vol. 161, No. 18, May 5, 2003, p. 32.
Denton, Martin, Review of The Holy Mother of Hadley, New York, www.nytheatre.com/nytheatre/archweb/arch_028.htm (accessed November 8, 2004).
Hills, Richard, "Pisces Zodiac Sign in Horoscopes, Including Compatibility Issues: An Interpretation by Astrologer Richard Hills," www.astrology-chart.co.uk/pisces.htm (accessed November 8, 2004).
Murray, Matthew, Review of The Holy Mother of Hadley, New York, www.talkinbroadway.com/ob/9_10a_01.html (accessed November 8, 2004).
Pfiffner, James P., "Did President Bush Mislead the Country in His Arguments for War with Iraq?" in Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 34, No. 1, March 2004, p. 25.
Sains, Ariane, "The Uncertain Future of Nuclear Energy," in Europe, February 2001, p. 26.
Wiechmann, Barbara, Feeding the Moonfish, in Telling Tales: New One-Act Plays, edited by Eric Lane, Penguin, 1993, pp. 389–412.
Aristotle's Poetics, translated by S. H. Butcher, Hill and Wang, 1961.
Aristotle's study of drama is a must read for those interested in literary fundamentals, including unity of plot, reversal of the situation, and character. This is the single most authoritative text used by playwrights and theorists for more than two thousand years.
Garrison, Gary, Perfect 10: Writing and Producing the 10-Minute Play, Heinemann Drama, 2001.
In this work, Garrison provides a simple and straightforward approach to writing and producing the 10-minute play. An excellent pocket how-to guide for those interested in modern playwriting techniques.
Sakoian, Frances, The Astrologer's Handbook, reprint ed., HarperResource, 1989.
Moving beyond predictable analysis of the twelve zodiac signs, this handbook was designed to meet the demands of professional astrologers, yet is user-friendly enough for those new to the subject. A great reference tool offering explanations of all of the central concepts of astrology.
Telling Tales: New One-Act Plays, edited by Eric Lane, Penguin, 1993.
This collection of extraordinary plays contains Wiechmann's play and more than twenty-five one-act plays by Christopher Durang, Maria Irene Fornes, Athol Fugard, Zora Neal Hurston, Arthur Miller, John Patrick Shanely, and others. It is an excellent reference for anyone interested in contemporary theater.