Famed playwright Israel Horovitz completed his residency with Jobsite Theater this weekend, culminating in an effective staged reading of Sins of the Mother, from his Gloucester play cycle, at Straz's TECO Theater. The experience went so well that both Jenkins and Horovitz expressed intentions of making the winter residency a recurring project. (Horovitz vacations in Florida each winter; read CL's recent interview with Horovitz for more details.)
Impressively rehearsed in just four days, the script-in-hand performance, with blocking, took the audience to the stevedore union room of a fish processing plant in Gloucester, Mass., sparely designed with folding chairs. Four unemployed men gather early in the morning for signatures that allow them to collect unemployment. Vet Bobby Maloney (Ned Averill-Snell), the elder of the group, in his mid-50s, enters and encounters a young Douggie Shimmatarro (Jordan Foote) who has just returned to town. His late mother, Louise Martino, was a junkie who became intimately acquainted with a good many of the town's unhappily married fishermen. Through some exposition we learn about her entanglement with the father of Frankie Verga (David Jenkins, Jobsite's artistic director), who enters with vegetarian buddy Dubbah Morrison (Shawn Paonessa). A heated exchange between Maloney and Verga brings up family secrets with disastrous consequences.
Because Horovitz originally penned the play as a one-act stand-alone piece, act two feels more like an epilogue, but the add-on works, for the most part, acquainting the audience with the successful, slick automobile mogul Philly Verga, the estranged identical twin of Frankie (needless to say, also played by Jenkins). “The past is of very little use,’’ preaches the Oprah acolyte; the self-help trope injects bitter irony as traumas and disappointments resurface and manifest into more misdeeds. Crimes beget more crimes, and at first blush, seem far-fetched but no worse than anything on an Internet news feed or Dateline.
According to Jenkins, Horovitz rewrote the ending during rehearsal with Jobsite so that the epilogue clarifies more directly Philly's mantras of "We don't need these people" and "Let them go."
Horovitz and the actors thoughtfully convey the interpersonal dynamics, historic detail and sociological allegory — and bawdy wit — that set Sins apart from a movie of the week. Snell's Maloney elicited the most laughs with his lovable but tragically flawed middle-aged Gulf War vet. With intimate, heated exchanges that never feel forced or inorganic to the plot, Horovitz's script delivers a dramatic gut -punch balanced with a good dose of humor.
The playwright/director shared during his post-show talk-back, moderated by Jenkins, that Gloucester was among cities that endured the most heroin abuse per capita and talked about the decline of the town's fishing industry (before its eventual gentrification), shedding light on the rampant dysfunction depicted in the play. He added that his father, a truck driver who worked his way through law school, influenced some of the character depictions in the play.
Horovitz also told a few amusing stories, sharing that two years ago he peeked in on a Greek production of his popular play The Line. The revamped production, he said, featured nearly nude men dressed as wood nymphs and a plus-size woman in an "assless" getup.