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Reel Life Fantasy

Actors Cabaret spins a fantastical yarn with Big Fish

You think your dad has outrageous stories? 

According to Edward Bloom, the years before he became a salesman were filled with heroism, giants, witches, mermaids and indentured servitude in the name of love. 

In Big Fish, now playing at Actors Cabaret of Eugene, Edward’s son Will listens to his father’s stories with a critical ear. He tries to believe, but it is the whopper about how Dad saved a U.S. Army general from a blow dart in the middle of a USO musical review — thus turning the tide of the war — that sends Will over the edge. When he can no longer believe his father, he is ultimately unable to respect him.

Will, a reporter, spends his days searching for the truth. In the last months of his father’s life, Will turns his investigative skills on his family, convinced he will never know dad until he finds out exactly which stories are true and which are bunk.

Based on the 2003 Tim Burton film, which was based on the 1998 novel by Daniel Wallace, Big Fish loses something in the process of so many translations. The first act of this stage version is tough, with too much focus on extravagant song-and-dance numbers and not enough attention to plot.

It is only in the second act, when a satisfying conflict is introduced, that the complexities of the situation come into focus. Like a song shifting into the correct key, ACE’s production suddenly finds some harmony. 

There is a lot to like in watching these wild stories come to life in director Joe Zingo’s hands. ACE goes all-out in casting and costuming. Michael Watkins gives a moving performance as Edward, and Anthony Krall ably plays Will. Cody Mendonca enacts Edward’s memories of his youth with comic book heroism. Alexis Myles, Johnathan Strand and Larry Brown elevate minor parts with clever characterization. Kim Fairbairn is lovely as Sandra.

Big Fish requires of its audience an extreme suspension of disbelief. Like an expert fisherman, keep your patience through the first act and watch as ACE wades deep into this father-son story, eventually hooking something worth bragging about. 

Big Fish runs through Aug. 8 Actors Cabaret of Eugene; $16-$27, tickets at actorscabaret.org.