Credit: Lara Goetsch

As far as shitty tenants go, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has nothing on
the men and women of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and
Explosives. In 2012, as part of an unregistered sting dubbed Operation
Fearless, agents rented a storefront in Milwaukee’s Riverwest
neighborhood-disguised as a clothing and housewares outlet-in order to
ensnare low-level criminals by luring them into a gun buyback scheme. The
operation was a model of ineptitude: guns were stolen, wrongful arrests
were made, and Chauncey Wright, a mentally handicapped man who worked for
the agents and sold them guns and drugs, ended up serving six months of
house arrest and four years of probation. The agents also left in their
wake $15,000 in damages and unpaid rent and utility bills.

Brett Neveu’s world-premiere two-act drama, presented as the first product
of TimeLine’s Playwrights Collective, is inspired by those events as
reported by Raquel Rutledge and John Diedrich in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Though TimeLine Theatre has a long
history of successfully transforming seemingly unstageable stories of
bureaucracy and institutional malfeasance into ground-level human dramas,
Neveu and director Ron OJ Parson focus almost entirely on the day-to-day
interactions of their Wright surrogate (Geno Walker) and his
guardian/grandmother (Linda Bright Clay), cousin (Al’Jaleel McGhee), and
girlfriend (Tiffany Addison).

Foregrounding the ripples in the lives of low-income people of color who
otherwise get buried in stories about government corruption makes sense; as
Neveu puts it in a program interview, “It has to be about the effect of the
con, not the con itself.” Still, I wonder how To Catch a Fish
would play without TimeLine’s immaculately detailed lobby display that
fills in seemingly critical contextual blanks, particularly the systems at
play that incentivized agents to behave like corporate sales bros goosing
their numbers by any means necessary.   v