Just when you think prolific writer Israel Horovitz may be running out of steam or resting on his laurels, the renowned Wakefield native-Gloucester-global resident pulls another surprise out of his bag of tricks. This time, it’s the New England premiere of Horovitz’s new play, “Gloucester Blue,” another of his series set in his beloved Gloucester, complete with his signature ironic twists and turns, finely drawn class lines, and enough local genre to delight North Shore/Cape Ann residents.
The play has already charmed theatergoers in Seattle, Delray Beach and New York City.
In the seemingly innocent-opening repartee between 35-year-old, hunky, married, paint-carpentry boss Stumpy, and Latham, 56, Stumpy’s bitter, pessimistic, rough-around-the-edges but grateful new hire, local references fly back and forth like a ping-pong match.
It’s fun to eavesdrop on these two gender-bending guys, whose taste in music and philosophies differ widely, but they dismiss their differences with a shrug of the shoulder or silent eye rolls. Latham blares Aerosmith CDs, while Stumpy says he prefers the more highbrow music on NPR.
They work together, spackling, scraping, and painting, (yes, really!) an abandoned waterfront building the new owners hope to convert perhaps into a B&B. As the men engage in small talk and the Gloucester geography name game,there’s an unsettling, pervasive atmosphere that lingers, warning us there’s something darker than the Gloucester blue paint they’re slapping on the walls of Jenna McFarland Lord’s realistic set.
David Reiffel’s musical interludes and sound effects, along with Brian Lilienthal’s moody lighting, highlight the play’s satiric humor and dramatic dark side.
And Horovitz has us hooked. Who’d guess a gorgeous, wealthy,bored, married socialite, from Hamilton named Lexi would consort with a local lump, (whom she thinks is named Steven), thus triggering a trail of blackmail, seduction, betrayal, deceit and disgust. Horovitz tightly weaves it all into a tangled web of cunning, murder, and - would you believe - a happy ending.
Horovitz also draws sharp lines between North Shore’s privileged and working classes, especially in wry conversational exchanges between the condescending Lexi and lowlife Latham, whose resentment and anger fester to a mounting explosion.
Thankfully, Horovitz selected an ideal cast that doesn’t offend our Massachusetts ears with pseudo “Glostah”-Hamilton accents. Robert Walsh, veteran versatile actor and faculty member at Brandeis University and ART/Harvard MXAT, is compellingly devious as house painter Latham, while Francisco Solorzano is secretive and steamy as Stumpy, Latham’s boss. Marblehead native Esme Allen, who teaches acting at Salem State University, is snooty as Lexi; and Boston favorite Lewis D.Wheeler is believably naive, portraying Lexi’s wealthy, do-nothing husband, Bradford “Bummy” Ellis IV, as he becomes entangled in this messy triumvirate.
As usual, Horovitz doesn’t fool around. He keeps theatergoers on the edge of their seats throughout the play, tossing in plot twists and surprises that lull us into thinking we know where this is leading, then, slam, bam! We’re off-track, reeling and reveling in the mystery, laughing in spite of ourselves.
BOX INFO: Two-act, two-hour dark comedy by Israel Horovitz, who also directs the play,through Oct.3, at Gloucester Stage, 267 East Main St., Gloucester. Performances, Wednesday-Saturday, at 7:30 p.m.; matinees, Saturday, Sunday, at 2 p.m. Senior, adult tickets, $28; age 25-younger, $1, cash only; no reservation, available only at the door, day of show. Call 978-281-4433, visit gloucesterstage.com or the Box Office.