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Working for Scales

A living is a life in 'North Shore Fish'

By Julie Mehta

THE HIGH DEGREE to which people's lives revolve around what they do for a living is explored in North Shore Fish, City Lights Theater Company's latest production. The themes of job insecurity and disenchantment in Israel Horovitz's play about workers in a struggling fish factory strike a universal chord in today's uncertain economic climate. The play presents a day in the life of the employees of North Shore Fish, a frozen-fish packaging factory in Gloucester, Mass. From the outset, it's clear the fish business is floundering. The factory's foreman, Salvatore "Sally" Morella (Ross Jenkins-Wolpinsky), is soon bristling under the orders of a new inspector, Catherine (Andrea Faiss), who has arrived to check the quality of the product--frozen fish that is seemingly endlessly wrapped and re-wrapped by the female packers. Company intrigue runs rampant, with Sally's past or present affairs with nearly every female employee a continual source of tension and jealousy, which must be defused by janitor Porker (David Scott), whose own dim-witted ways make him the butt of frequent, albeit affectionate, ribbing.

The assortment of employees showcases the spectrum of attitudes people of all walks of life have toward their jobs: Elderly Arlyne (Lori Hart Beninger) takes reverent pride in the work she's been doing since girlhood; Porker is simply grateful that he's making a living; Florence (Patricia Madden) is disgusted with her situation and dreads being stuck in it forever; and Josie (Prairie Griffith) blames her hatred of her job for causing her weight problem. The subject is as bleak as Heather Brandon's simple gray factory set that blends with the small theater's own warehouse look. The oppressive set is filled with boxes, cartons, and machinery, its only connection with the outside world a small radio in a corner.

The minimal plot makes for some dry stretches, but the characters are well depicted through gossip and some hilarious one-liners. The cast, co-directed by City Lights Executive Director Ross Nelson and Aaron Voorhees, forms an energetic and cohesive ensemble, though they go a bit over the top in some scenes. Scott is especially skillful at crossing back and forth over the boundary between comedy and drama in his portrayal of Porker. In some less dramatic scenes, the cast slips in and out of audibility--especially frustrating in such a talk-heavy play. Flaws aside, North Shore Fish clearly illustrates how much people's outlook and self-worth can be tied up with what they do, while serving as a reminder that no one need be limited to or by his job.

North Shore Fish plays Thursday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2 and 7pm (except June 30) through June 30 at City Lights Theater, 529 S. Second St., San Jose. Tickets are $10-$13.50. (408/295-4200)

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From the June 13-19, 1996 issue of Metro

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