Micro Shrimp the Musical is More Than
Fish Food for Thought
by Rigche Ma
Winner of the 11th Annual New Jersey Playwrights Contest (NJPC) in the musical category for 2015, Micro Shrimp the Musical premiered in April, at the Hunziker Black Box Theatre, William Paterson University. With book, lyrics and music by Marcus Yi (Artistic Director of Living Room Theatre, and one of Indie Theatre Now’s 2014 People of the Year), and direction by Edward Matthews (founder of NJPC and Artistic Director at the University Performing Arts), Micro Shrimp the Musical swims between the microcosms of two fishbowls belonging to a little boy named Marty; one where the eponymous community of micro shrimps live relatively carefree, and another, where a lone predator fish lurks.
Mirroring complex societies, the anthropomorphic micro shrimps’ miniature world is inundated with familiar issues of love, class, status, and even conflicting systems of beliefs. While some shrimps worship a ‘Brine Shrimp Heaven’ and the ‘Book of Brine’ – an equivalent of the good Book, but of more murky origins, others are skeptical towards the oversized net that swipes regularly in the tank, taking away random shrimps into a questionable unknown.
It soon transpires that the micro shrimps were not altogether mistaken in their faiths; Marty, who makes his presence known to the shrimps by an invasive or mesmerizing flashlight, – depending on which school of thought the shrimps adhere to, is more or less their Creator, having followed an instructional video for keeping sea monkeys. Gradually, the shrimps realized that they had, in fact, been bred as sustenance for a predator fish, and so, their very existence is entangled with their predator in a sinister and cruelly logical co-dependence.
Unable to accept their newly discovered status quo as ‘fish food’, the shrimps staged a dubiously successful revolt, which saw the demise of the predator fish. However, this turn of event also meant that Marty no longer had a reason to keep the shrimps. In their naivety and myopia, the shrimps broke into a triumphant musical number – ‘Freedom of the Sea’, as they get sucked into an ominous whirlpool accompanied by the distinct flush of a … toilet.
Although the micro shrimps desperately insisted that they were ‘more than fish food,’ Micro Shrimp the Musical is ultimately a dark musical, reminding its characters, as well as the audience, that ‘we’re all dispensable!’ Despite the bleak message, Yi’s buoyant music, and an energetic and committed cast steered the show from sinking into the shrimps’ hopeless reality, while a clever premise and well-thought out plot lured the audience into a deeper examination of the shrimps’, and perhaps, the audiences’ own helpless existence within a larger web of interdependence.
While Yi had not been a stranger to the exploration of interrelation and existential issues, as evident in his previous works (The Procedure, 29XY), this latest piece reflects a new level of maturity in Yi’s artistry. Micro Shrimp the Musical is hilarious and well written, simultaneously light-hearted and provocative, but most of all, it left the audience with a deep impression and much satisfying food for thought.