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The Arts
May 17-23, 2006

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'North Shore Fish'

Photograph by James Kasyan
Working For Scales: Ashkahn Jahromi and Kim Blanck toil in a fish-processing plant in Dragon Productions' 'North Shore Fish.'

A Fish Story

A teen cast tries out adult themes in 'North Shore Fish' at Dragon Productions

By Marianne Messina

ANYONE who has worked in the kind of factory environment where you have to make excuses for an extra trip to the bathroom will either appreciate Dragon Productions' North Shore Fish or suffer the horrors of recognition. Set in a fish-processing plant on Boston's North Shore in the historic fishing town of Gloucester, the play creates the claustrophobia of small-town dependency on the local big employer. A pregnant woman working up to her delivery, a "not the brightest bulb in town" kind of guy, mothers with young kids—these characters people Israel Horowitz's play, standing at rows of tables cutting and breading fish under the constantly barking management of Salvatore Morella (Ashkahn Jahromi).

Sal's tendency to sleep with the women who work for him undermines the workplace with sexual tension (if not harassment). He further intensifies this sense of the primal den by intimidating and abusing the plant's token guy, Porker (Ben Gullard), in front of the women. Set designer Ron Gasparinetti has done a wonderful job "mentoring" the troupe's creation of a ghastly drab environment: the high tables that serve as work stations for two are a sloppily painted green, the floors are paint-spattered; boxes and other trash sit in the corner; the North Shore Fish sign is decapitated, echoing the mindless drudgery of the work. Perhaps the most telling description of this work environment comes when Florence argues with Sal, saying, "This isn't the fish business; fish bleeds when you cut it open." Like elsewhere, Gloucester's family fishing businesses have been hit hard in the crossfire between pollution, environmental regulation and international commercial fishing. And playwright Horowitz makes it clear that North Shore Fish is not processing locally caught fish (which would be live) but frozen fish imported from Japan.

Undaunted by the excessive amount of language (these fish cutters are not laconic people), the high-school-age cast presents a lively and likable bunch of characters. Allison Ogrey takes a nice stab at the Boston accent as Arlyne, a lifer who repeats herself enough for everyone to chime in when she speaks. Kim Blanck's Florence ("The town pump," as Sal calls her) would be "a handful" for any a partner—long on personality, confrontational, boasting of her sexploits with almost mannish swagger. And Jahromi's Sal is loud and overbearing enough to give us the sense of his oppressive power.

North Shore Fish happens in a compressed environment prone to complex emotional inbreeding; for instance, a person can be both jealous of and protective of a co-worker. For this reason, the acting demands a command of nuance that isn't always forthcoming, resulting in occasional murkiness. As well, some of the ethnic, local and class colorations that Horowitz has written into the play remain submerged. But the production compensates by way of intensity and an off-beat humor, often sardonic or macabre, that sneaks up on you.

Gullard aptly situates his Porker somewhere between mousy and happy-go-lucky, making Sal's intimidations all the more excruciating. In his Red Sox cap (thanks to whoever brought in that local reference) and baggy coveralls, Gullard's Porker isn't just a man cowed by his need for the job, he's a placater, the family peacemaker striving, when arguments erupt, to get everything back to cozy, even if it means deflecting anger onto himself. When Porker finally goes off on Sal, his open-handed blows say it all (fights and punches choreographed by Durand Garcia). This energetic, engaging production roundly takes on a much-neglected but core slice of the American way of life.

North Shore Fish, a Dragon Theatre production, plays Thursday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm through May 21 at Dragon Theatre, 535 Alma St., Palo Alto. Tickets are $10-$15. (650.493.2006)

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