A Fine Kettle of Fish

24Jul13

Israel Horovitz’s ‘North Shore Fish’ at Gloucester Stage Company
Shimmagetsfish_7110When Israel Horovitz wrote “North Shore Fish” in 1986, the Gloucester fish packing industry was already in trouble. Plants were closing, and with the local fishing industry sputtering, those that remained in business were reduced to repackaging frozen filets from overseas rather than fresh local fish.

That’s the setting of Horovitz’s play, currently on stage at the Gloucester Stage Company. The North Shore Fish of the title is a fish packing plant that has provided a living for generations of Cape Ann working class families, but now finds itself on the cusp of extinction. Jenna McFarland Lord’s authentically austere set reflects the bleak circumstances that the plant and the employees are facing.

The nine workers in Horovitz slice of life tragicomedy must face the question of what will happen to them when the only job they’ve ever known sails off into the sunset.

Not only has North Shore Fish employed generations of the same families, it’s current employees are a family unto themselves, with all the affection, animosity, loyalty and bickering that you’d see in any real family.

SalPorkerCloseUp_7360There’s Alfred “Porker” Martino (played by Thomas Phillip O’Neill), a good natured everyman who takes his share of abuse from all, but especially from Salvatore “Sally” Morella (Lowell Byers), the plant boss.

Sal fancies himself a ladies man, and there’s no female employee, and hardly a girl on Cape Ann, that he hasn’t made a pass at, managing to impregnate at least three of his conquests. Sal also imagines himself to be a sort of working class hero, constantly bellowing that it’s only due to his efforts that the plant survives and the employees are able to feed their families.

ArlyeneSingleCloseUp_7356The fish-packing line is populated by women of various ages. The oldest is Arlyne Flynn (Nancy E. Carroll) the mother hen to this brood, whose admonitions have been echoing in the warehouse for so long that the other workers can recite them word for word with her.

There’s Arlyne’s daughter, Ruthie (Brianne Beatrice) a third-generation plant employee who is, in her words, “ten months pregnant,” but still coming to work every day because it’s all she knows.

There’s Josie Evangelista (Marianna Armitstead) who struggles with her weight and despairs that her husband left her for another local woman because she was too fat.

MaureenPorkerMarlenCropped_7109Maureen Vega (Erin Brehm) is planning a long overdue vacation in Connecticut with her husband. She brings to work her cousin, Marlena Vega (Esme Allen), so the latter can be trained to fill in for her while she’s gone.

And there’s Florence Rizzo (played by Aimee Doherty) with whom married boss Sal is having an on-again, off-again relationship that fuels simmering resentments set to boil over at the slightest provocation.

That provocation arrives in the person of a government inspector Catherine Shimma (Therese Plaehn) who has the power to shut the plant down if it fails to pass muster. This has Sal on edge, and it doesn’t help his lover Florence’s state of mind when Catherine turns out to be a looker.

Meanwhile, the workers counter their worry about the plant’s future and the tedium of mindless piece work by engaging in seemingly inane banter.

SalSeatedFlo_7677But Horovitz avoids writing these characters as working class stereotypes, instead using his ear for authentic local dialog to give each character’s distinct personality a chance to express itself and establish its own dignity.

Director Robert Walsh draws fine performances from every member of the ensemble, right down to the North Shore accents, which never come across as forced. Of course, it helps that all but two or three of the actors have Massachusetts roots and more than a passing familiarity with the dialect.

Walsh is also an adept fight choreographer, which proved a handy extra skill to bring to this play.

FloPorkerEmbrace_7703The plant may be a dreary place, but the play is anything but. Horovitz brings a good measure of his trademark humor to bear and there are moments of true emotional poignancy. North Shore Fish is a perfect reason for a summer excursion to Gloucester.

North Shore Fish runs through August 4 at Gloucester Stage Company, 267 East Main St. in Gloucester. Evening performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. Saturday matinees at 3 p.m. on July 20, July 27, and August 3. Sunday performances on July 21, July 28 and August 4 at 4 p.m. For tickets, phone the box office at 978-281-4433 or purchase tickets online.

Israel Horovitz was born in Wakefield, Massachusetts in 1939 and graduated from Wakefield High School in 1956. His 70+ plays have been translated and performed worldwide. His numerous awards include the OBIE (twice) the Elliot Norton Award and the Drama Desk Award. He is the founding Artistic Director (emeritus) of the Gloucester Stage Company.

Horovitz is currently in France getting ready to direct a film of his play “My Old Lady,” starring Kevin Kline and Maggie Smith.

[North Shore Fish, by Israel Horovitz. Directed by Robert Walsh. Set Design, Jenna McFarland Lord. Costume Design, Gail Astrid Buckley. Lighting Design, Russ Swift. Production Stage Manager, Maureen Lane. Featuring Esme Allen, Marianna Armitstead, Brianne Beatrice, Erin Brehm, Lowell Byers, Nancy E. Carroll, Aimee Doherty, Thomas Phillip O’Neill and Therese Plaehn.]

All photos by Gary Ng.

(This review originally appeared in the Wakefield Daily Item.)

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