note: entire contents copyright 2016 by Sheila Barth
When Stoneham Theatre Producing Artistic Director Weylin Symes wrote his Cape Ann-based play, “Lobster Girl,” he enlisted immensely talented actor-writer-composer-multi-instrumentalist Steven Barkhimer to pen the music and lyrics. Both men have great theatrical vision, and generally are a winning combination, especially after Stoneham Theatre’s proven success with similar-type musicals.
Thing is, “Lobster Girl” strikes me as a work in progress, requiring more fine-tuning. Symes‘ story is likable, and Barkhimer’s music, thinly provided by two musicians, bears his signature whimsical, lilting lyrics and melodies, but nothing memorable.
Although Symes says “Lobster Girl” is Cape Ann-based, it lacks Cape Ann genre, save an occasional tossed-out reference. This musical could be set in any seaside fishing/lobstering community. Katy Monthei’s set, with its suspended puffy cumulus clouds, wooden seagull, and background tryptich panels of azure-blue sky and clouds, is attractive, but generic.
The characters aren’t well-defined, either. Lobsterman Hank is hankering after Nancy (Ceit Zweil), a divorced woman with a 13-year-old bookish daughter, Cora, whom he hopes to win over by taking her lobstering on his boat for a day. Cora, (Brigit Smith) an intelligent, insightful kid, knows her mother is dating this likable, socially awkward. big guy, but doesn’t suspect they’re making wedding plans. She reluctantly goes on the fishing expedition with Hank, but is more absorbed with her library book, Darwin’s “Origin of the Species”.
Hank (affable Bryan T. Donovan) tries too hard to please Cora. His awkwardness is smoothed by his fishing mate Jake’s appealing overtures to Cora, making fun and games out of lobstering chores and his rituals. Hank’s vernacular isn’t childproof either, with comments like “We’re off, like a prom dress!” when they’re departing dockside.
Together, Felix Teich as Jake, Donovan and Smith’s three-part harmony in songs, “The Tao of Jake,”“This Old Lobster,” and “A Fine Mesh We’re In” are delightful.
Everything’s progressing swimmingly aboard the lobster boat, with the trio singing along with songs from the ‘70s, and ‘80s. Cora progressively comes out of her shell, and Hank loosens up.
The afternoon expedition ends disastrously, though, at dusk, with the boat beached on rocks. But the play ends happily, with Cora, Hank, and Nancy’s plans to become a family.
Portraying Ol’ Joe, Stoneham favorite actor William Gardiner is a silly, ubiquitous, local character of sorts, who pleasantly opens the show with a ditty, “The Ballad of Ol‘ Joe”. Instead of being a wise, Gloucester old salt, Joe is an absurd figure, who floats by the lobster boat, soaping up and taking a bath in his small dinghy, and later, lantern in hand, while garbed in his nightcap and flannel plaid nightshirt, rescues the stranded trio.
Brigit Smith, 13-year-old member of Stoneham’s young company, performs well as Cora, but, her speaking voice doesn’t project well at times, especially when her back is turned towards theatergoers.
Last Sunday’s matinee senior theatergoers appeared to enjoy “Lobster Girl,” for the most part, but I’d prefer to see this winning combo of Symes and Barkhimer take it back to the drawing board, take a hint from multi-award winning playwright Israel Horovitz, who interweaves Cape Ann’s colorful side and local characters, lending credulity and charm to his works.