With the final week of performances for To Catch A Fish underway, we caught up with actor Jay Worthington (Ike Jeno) to learn a little more about him and what makes this show an important part of Chicago’s summer theatre scene.
To Catch A Fish is based on the story of Chauncey Wright, a man suffering from brain damage who was tricked into illegal activity by federal agents. You can read more about the history behind the play in our Backstory article. Playwright Brett Neveu creates a fictionalized account of Wright’s story using the character of Terry—an African American man who, like Chauncey, suffers from brain damage and is unknowingly tricked into illegal gun sales by ATF agents.
[Good theatre] comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable.
The themes of discrimination in Brett Neveu’s play hit close to home for Jay, though in a different way. Legally blind, Jay has a condition called ocular albinism, which reduces the pigmentation in the iris needed for proper vision. It also causes Jay’s eyes to move uncontrollably. “In grade school there were a few times I was ganged up on by a group of boys and beaten until I was unconscious. They did this because they didn’t like the way my eyes moved,” he said. As a result of his condition, Jay faces challenges in his every day life, from discrimination in casting to countless strange looks and the occasional “thoughtless or harsh comment regarding [his] eyes.” He both recognizes the differences between his own experiences with discrimination and those of a person of color and believes there is sympathy to be found in the commonalities they share.
Jay has known for a long time that acting is what he was called to do. “When I was four or five years old, my Dad took me to see Tim Burton’s Batman in theaters. I was transfixed (Jack Nicholson was a deity whom I worshiped growing up),” he shared, “I walked out of that movie theater a different person. I knew why I was here.”
Part of what makes To Catch A Fish so powerful is its founding in reality. Playing characters based on real people is both exciting and nerve racking—it creates a pressure to represent the real-life inspiration with honesty. In portraying an ATF agent, Jay agrees: “It’s beautiful and awful all at the same time. I always feel a great responsibility to tell the truth on stage, but roles [like these] double that feeling.” He thinks that ultimately, “you just have to learn how to be comfortable in your discomfort, push through, and pray that your work brings honor to them.”
The play is all about the families we choose, and the families that choose us.
To prepare for the show, the cast and creative team took a trip to the Milwaukee community where the events upon which the play is based took place. Jay walked away from the experience with tons of inspiration, but was struck most by everything’s proximity. “The locations were, at most, a five minute bike ride apart from each other…all this essentially happened in Chauncey’s own backyard,” said Jay, “as that realization dawned on me throughout the afternoon it filled me with anxiety and dread. That was what made it all real for me.”
To Catch A Fish may follow an ill-fated ATF sting, but it’s Neveu’s complex characters that fill the show with heart. “To me, this play is all about the families we choose, and the families that choose us,” said Jay, “if an audience member happens to be a member of a minority group, I hope they’re comforted. I hope they feel a sense of justice that stories like these are being told more and more. Ultimately, I hope this play achieves the same effect that I hope for concerning all theatre: to comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comfortable.”
To Catch A Fish runs at TimeLine Theatre until July 1. For tickets, click here or call the Box Office at (773) 281.8463. Come join us for this critically acclaimed production!