Sins Of The Mother
Israel Horovitz's Sins of the Mother, now being presented by the Gloucester Stage Company, is a wicked tale of men whose lives center around trapping fish from the sea but who are themselves trapped, caught in deadly cycles of deceit, boredom and violence. Directed by the playwright, the production is part of the 70/70 Horovitz Project, celebrating Horovitz as septuagenarian, which promises 70 readings and productions of his works in theaters around the globe. Initially a work-in-progress that was given a public reading a couple years ago at the Gloucester Stage, the playwright has since developed it into a three act play. It is a worthy addition to his prolific canon. Sins of the Mother is a feisty, fiery story of lives steeped in the salty brine of Gloucester. It features four actors whose strong performances will haunt you long after you leave the theater.
The play opens in on a gray day in a gray union meeting room in a fish-processing plant where Bobby Maloney (Robert Walsh) meets newcomer Douggie Shimmatarro (Francisco Solozano). In a probing and terse exchange between the two men, we learn that Douggie is not a newcomer at all but has roots in the city by the sea. This is the key to the play's Davy Jones' locker: chockablock full of vicious secrets. If you are a lumper, a man paid to handle large loads of fish, your life and the lives of your family and neighbors are intertwined. And if you are waiting for the next ship to come in that will put an end to the boredom of waiting for work, you try to connect the dots, to place another man with his roots, to see if and how these roots connect with yours.
The telling of the tale focuses on those secrets best left untold. Once these secrets are unleashed, however, there is no turning back until the final, shattering end.
Horovitz has a fine ear when it comes to capturing the substance and nuances of how these men speak. And the actors do not need a vocal coach: they are authentic. But it is a harsh accent. As Rhode Island-born poet Galway Kinnell once described it, the New England accent is "charming and loveable, but not very musical." There is no music in their words. There is no music in their lives. If there is a fault with the script, it is with Horovitz's insistence to repeat certain phrases like "I'm just sayin'" too often by each of the characters. Listening to that phrase, and others, repeated again and again blunts the impact. Some careful pruning would remedy this, but only ever-so gingerly: the play is, overall, remarkably well written.
When Frankie Verga (Christopher Whalen) and Dubbah Morrison (David Nail) enter the waiting room, the game of Gloucester geography continues. Without giving away the story, suffice it to say that the connections are not healthy ones, and center around the "sins" committed by Douggie's mother, but also the sins of the fathers, too, who pass them onto the sons.
The cast is first rate. Actor Christopher Whalen plays a dual role, that of twin brothers Frankie and Philly Verga. It is a tall order, but Whalen rises to the challenge, revealing the dark personalities of the brothers as opposite sides of the same damaged coin. As Douggie Shimmatarro, Francisco Solozano has the daunting task of learning about his troubled past and struggling against the weight of that inheritance; he is at turns troubled, angry, and lost. As Bobby Maloney, Robert Walsh is spot-on, a true old salt, grizzled, beaten down by his own misdeeds, who has come to see his life as misspent. It is a performance to savor, and Walsh makes it all the more gripping by revealing his character's burnt core and pain. And as Dubbah Morrison, David Nail brings sweetness to a bittersweet role; he provides several of the play's few moments of humor through well-timed bumbling antics. The set by Jenna McFarland Lord adds authenticity and places us inside a world that is forever shrinking. Ashley Preston's costumes and Russ Swift's lighting also compliment the production.
And while the play is about the collective "sins" accumulated by the men and their families, it is also about Gloucester and how the city is changing from a quaint, interdependent one to a more gentrified, indifferent place. The connections between families making their living by the sea can still be found there, but, as Bobby Maloney tells us, Gloucester is not the place depicted in the movie "The Perfect Storm" where camaraderie triumphed with each beer swilled. It is not like the bar Cheers, where "everybody knows your name." The fishing industry is troubled. Neighbors and neighborhoods are no longer distinguishable, but are blending into one another, losing many of their unique ethnic characteristics. The fishermen and the fish they hunt are endangered. Sins of the Mother brings this message of endangerment poignantly and powerfully home.
Sins of the Mother plays through September 13 at the Gloucester Stage Company, 267 Main Street, Gloucester, MA 01930. for further information visit the Gloucester Stage website.