Big Fish in the family storytelling pond

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Thursday, October 19, 2017

JANESVILLE—Fathers are complicated.

They’re the menacing figure best captured in the phrase, “Wait until your father gets home!” At the same time, they’re the guys who are way more lax than Mom, the guys who bought us ice cream before dinner, the fun guys with the store of corny jokes and long stories we’ve all heard a thousand times.

For two weekends this fall, UW-Rock County is presenting “Big Fish,” the musical based on the novel by Daniel Wallace and the film from Tim Burton.

It’s the father story of all father stories, and a funny and touching story that captures the complexities of our relationships with our dads.

“Big Fish” is the story of Edward Bloom, a traveling salesman. He was the kind of dad who spun imaginative tales about life, stories filled with fantastic creatures and adventures.

His son, Will, loved these stories as a child, but now that his father is reaching the end of his life, Will wants to know what is true. Will, who is about to become a father himself, wants to resolve the complicated relationship with his father.

How elaborate are his father’s stories?

Think Walter Mitty, only with a magical edge—and way more likeable.

One of the show’s songs outlines Bloom’s alleged accomplishments as “Ashton’s Favorite Son.” They include “hero of the baseball diamond,” “champion of the science fair,” “captain of the student council” and “football hero, too.”

At one point, Edward encourages his son to create his own stories.

Throughout the musical, Will begins to understand the importance of those stories and is able to connect with his father’s real-life heroism, both real and metaphorical.

Trevor Rees, UW-Rock County director of theater, said he was looking for a work that would challenge students and, at the same time, have an impact on the community and the audience.

Part of what Rees found so powerful in the musical is Edward Bloom’s storytelling. With 24-hour news cycles, Facebook and other forms of social media, storytelling is a tradition that has almost been lost, Rees said.

Twitter, for example, expects stories to be compacted into 140 characters.

Family stories—and most of them contain exaggerated elements—are part of our personal and cultural identities, Rees said.

It’s crucial to keep passing them down to figure out who we are, he said.

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