ISRAEL HOROVITZ’S PLAY RECALLS A FAMILIAR WAKEFIELD

01Sep07

It’s not often that the town of Wakefield figures prominently in a work of art or literature. But in Israel Horovitz’s The Widow’s Blind Date, the playwright gives his hometown a strong supporting role in this taut drama about the reunion of three Wakefield High School classmates who share an unsavory past.

My review of the current production at Gloucester Stage Company in the August 23 Daily Item mentioned just a few of the Wakefield references that come up in the play, which is set in the baling press room of a wastepaper company in Wakefield. Now that GSC has extended the current run of The Widow’s Blind Date through September 9, 2007, I thought it might make an interesting exercise to examine more of the Wakefield names and locations that come up throughout the play.

Born in Wakefield in 1939, Israel Horovitz was the son of Julius and Hazel Horovitz. Hazel Horovitz lived at 39 Elm Street until her death in May 2005 at age 94.

Israel Horovitz graduated from Wakefield High School in 1956. His plays have been translated and performed worldwide. In 1967-68, Horovitz’s play The Indian Wants the Bronx introduced future stars Al Pacino and John Cazale to New York theater audiences. Another Horovitz play, It’s Called the Sugar Plum introduced Marsha Mason and Jill Clayburgh.

The Widow’s Blind Date is not the only play that Horovitz set in his hometown. Other Horovitz works that feature Wakefield include Hopscotch, The 75th and The Wakefield Plays (a 9-play cycle).

In the opening scene of The Widow’s Blind Date, townies and long-time friends Archie Crisp and George Ferguson are loading stacks of old newspapers into the baler while swilling beers and shooting the bull late on a Saturday afternoon. While the play purports to be set in “the present,” the local references would tend to date it closer to the mid to late 20th century.

Archie tells George that he might have to leave for a while because he’s having supper with another of their WHS classmates, Margy Burke (the widow of the title). She left Wakefield long ago, but is back in town because her brother is dying in Melrose-Wakefield Hospital.

“I bumped into her down Mal’s Jewel Craft awhile back,” Archie tell George. Jewel Craft was a downtown jeweler that Horovitz would have remembered from growing up in Wakefield.

As they bale papers, Archie and George discuss various other high school classmates and local haunts. “Cootie Webber got hit by lightning…head of the Lake,” Archie reminds George.

George reminisces aloud about a youthful romantic interlude he had with a girl “up by the bandstand, lookin’ out at Lake Quannapowitt.”
Bandstand (widescreen)
The Bandstand on Wakefield Common

George quizzes Archie about his “date” with Margy. “So, ah, where’re you takin’ the widow for supper? Hazelwood?”

The Hazelwood Cottage was a local restaurant at 348 Main Street in Wakefield Square, opposite Avon Street. It burned down on April 16, 1972, part of an infamous string of suspicious multiple-alarm fires in Wakefield. The eatery later reopened for a time in the space now occupied by Bothers Deli & Restaurant.
Brothers'
Brothers’ Deli & Restaurant, former site of the Hazelwood Cottage

“Where you pickin’ her up? 33 Elm?” George asks Archie. That’s an address that Horovitz would have known. A Wakefield Street List from the 1930s shows Samuel Horovitz, a lawyer, living at 33 Elm Street.

Archie makes a disparaging comment about rich girls “from Wakefield’s Park section.” Wakefield Park was an area of the West Side that was developed around the turn of the 20th century as an exclusive upper middle class district. It retained that reputation as a “rich” neighborhood well into the 20th century.
Park Gates
The “Park Gates” frame the entrance to the exclusive Wakefield Park neighborhood

When Margy shows up, she says she doesn’t remember George, even though they went through school together. “All twelve years,” George says, trying to jar her memory. “Georgie Ferguson? Gould Street? Up near the Stoneham line?”

When Margy still doesn’t remember him, George persists, reminding her of an incident at the Warren School. “There was a squirt-gun fight in second grade and you got hit in the face and you cried and told Mrs. Linder…you remember?”
Warren School
H.M. Warren School – Wakefield, Massachusetts

Dorothy M. Linder taught at the Warren School, according to Town Reports. She was a 1946 graduate of Salem State Teacher’s College, and would have been teaching at the Warren School when the young Horovitz was a pupil there. Built in 1897, the Warren School now houses the John J. McCarthy Senior Center.

Archie reminds Margy of another time they bumped into each other since high school. “I saw you in Santoro’s, buyin’ subs…”
Santoro's

The three former classmates discuss where Margy’s late husband, Edgar Burke lived. Margy assures the boys that Edgar was not related to “Dr. Burke…top of Prospect Street.” Archie wonders if Edgar was from Greenwood, but Margy reminds him that “Edgar came from the Woodville District…”

George wants to know where Edgar’s father worked. “Lakeside Furniture?” Lakeside Furniture was a store at the head of the lake in the mid-20th century.

The West Ward School on Prospect Street, aka the “Little Red Schoolhouse” also makes an appearance. “I go back a ways with this one, Marg,” Archie says, referring to George. “We got a history, all the way back to the West Ward School.”
West Ward School
West Ward School

Later, Margy reminds Archie of something. “Esther Larkin. That was your first girlfriend,” Margy teases. “She lived on the corner of Prospect and Elm. Pigtails.”

Several times, Archie and George refer to another classmate as “Arthur the Jew” or “Artie the Jew.” When Horovitz delivered one of the Sweetser Lectures in 2001, he talked about the difficulty of growing up in Wakefield at a time when there were only a handful of Jewish families. Horovitz was born Israel Arthur Horovitz and growing up in Wakefield, he was known as Arthur.

George tells Margy that he used to work “on the Town crew. Cleanin’ sweepin’ shovelin’ kinda thing…I had longevity on the Gulch crew…ya remember? Guinea Gulch?” George is referring to the well-known disparaging name for the Water Street area, where many Italian-American families lived and worked.

Israel Horovitz set this play in a Wakefield that those who grew up in town in the 20th century remember well.

The Widow’s Blind Date has been extended through September 9 at Gloucester Stage Company.

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