note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Larry Stark
Set Design by Jenna McFarland Lord
Costume Design by Ashley Preston
Lighting Design by Russ Swift
Sound Design by Ben Emerson
Production Stage Managers Marsha Smith & Kayla G. Sullivan
Bobby Maloney.......Robert Walsh
Douggie Shimmatarro...Francisco Solorzano
Frankie Verga...............Christopher Whalen
Dubbah Morrison......David Nail
Philly Verga............Christopher Whalen
Israel Horovitz is seven years younger than I am, but this year's "70-70 Horovitz Project" will see his plays produced --- one for every one of his seventy years --- in readings or in full productions across America and around the world. The newest is at the Gloucester Stage, a former Gorton's fish warehouse that the playwright himself founded 30 years ago when he began turning his boyhood in the small fishing-towns on The North Shore into gritty nuggets of shocking drama. "Sins of The Mother" has two acts and a wry, brief epilogue --- and it is classic, in-your-face Horovitz.
From "The Indian Wants The Bronx" through "The Widow's Blind Date" up to this new one, Horovitz' plays examine why men murder one another. Blood-feuds arise in the crucible of school-yard taunts and fights. The indignities of grinding poverty are acted-against in child-beatings and parents' brawls, in this case driving identical twins to choose sides and grow up hating one another. What can anyone do when all the canning-factories close; when sailors can make more importing a cigar-box full of drugs than they can bringing in a boatload of fish; when once overflowing union-halls are full of empty chairs, and all once-proud fishermen come there for is weekly proof that they looked for non-existent work and qualify for unemployment? When livelihoods dry up pride turns to resentment, and guys with street-smarts but no education take it out on each other.
The play is in bitten-off chunks of action, beginning with a generational confrontation: Young Douggie Shimmatarro (Francisco Solorzano), back in Gloucester, has to prove to Bobby Maloney (Robert Walsh) that he was born there, that his mother lived and died there, though he himself was raised by a grandmother in another town, so he went to another high-school. Everyone knows everyone in small, close-knit working towns, and newcomers need to prove themselves to be accepted. Three different Shimmatarro families in different towns, each with a kid named Douggie, make conversation about who's and where's into a cautious rite of passage. But that only defines the landscape on which unfinished wars unexpectedly play themselves out.
Horovitz is a master at dropping hints and ultimately adding them all up into revelation of past plots. People who have to work together sometimes hate one another for almost-forgotten reasons, and what "everybody knows" cannot always be proven in a court of law --- but men who haul their livelihood up out of unforgiving seas often handle justice in their own way, no matter how long it takes.
Horovitz directed his own play, getting solid performances out of a quartet of actors who have the rhythms of workmen's one-upmanship and street-banter down cold. Walsh plays the oldest --- a still-strong workman back from breaking God's commandment on killing in 'Nam with the conviction that it's better not to bring kids into a godless world. Solorzano is the youngest --- or maybe just newest ---suddenly learning unexpected things about his own and his family's past. David Nail plays Dubbah Morrison, bystander and accomplice, whose nerve frays even as he sticks to his story.
And then there is Christopher Whalen playing the identical Verga twins, as different as night and day. Frankie Verga is a taunting brawler taking his pugnacious father as a do-no-wrong role-model whose black reputation he staunchly defends. His brother Philly, who appears in the second act, hates his father's guts and his sycophantic twin --- but he is the only one who escaped the dying fisheries, owns a used-car lot and cites Oprah for the words of wisdom he calls the secret of his success.
Jenna McFarland Lord has filled the comfortably big playing space with with a night-and-day set that transforms from a barren, chair-strewn union hall into a warmly cozy living-room during an act-break that spills the audience out into the lobby to marvel at and discuss the opening act's sudden climax.
Horovitz' fishermen are an earthy, brawling, self-sufficient breed of street-talkers who work, and fight, with their hands. Their story concentrates on signifcant action-scenes that begin and end as though bitten-off from on-going action. Except perhaps for an opening that seems comic in its lengthy, shallow repetitions, he wastes not a word nor a moment telling this story his way. College-educated playgoers may feel they have been given a rare, exhilarating glimpse into a raw, alien world. Gloucester's lobstermen, if they go at all, will doubtless feel very much at home.