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‘North Shore Fish,’ A New Play By Israel Horovitz, Opens Off- Broadway

January 13, 1987

NEW YORK (AP) _ ″North Shore Fish″ by Israel Horovitz is a blue collar elegy, a tough, funny and eventually poignant look at the expendability of people when their jobs - and lives - become obsolete.

The play, which opened over the weekend at off-Broadway’s WPA Theater, takes place in a fish processing plant in Gloucester, Mass., where a team of workers bread and pack frozen rectangles of processed fish.

″It used to be when you got on the line at North Shore Fish, your worries were over,″ sighs one 30-year veteran, describing the factory. Not any more. The Japanese, the technical revolution and even government inspectors have diminished security for the plant and its employees.

Security is important to these people, working class Italian-Americans on Massachusetts’ North Shore. They depend on family, friends and work. All three seem to be falling apart. It’s to the playwright’s credit that he skillfully creates their world and makes it believable. In a way, the characters are similar to the people in ″Stepping Out,″ the recent slice of life about a London tap dance class. Both plays are about small people with small problems.

But unlike the mannequins in ″Stepping Out,″ the people of ″North Shore Fish″ ring true. Horovitz roots them in a specific time and place. There’s a great deal of talk about family and who’s related to whom and where they live. The playwright has fashioned an environment that reinforces the authenticity of his characters.

They include a macho plant supervisor (Thomas G. Waites), a louse of a Lothario who has managed to seduce nearly every woman in the plant. This supervisor does daily battle with Flo, a foul-mouthed cynic who rants against the factory system but can’t get out of it. Christine Estabrook gives a galvanizing performance as Flo, and she is in fighting trim.

Among the other workers are Arlyne, a veteran packer, played with a abundance of charm by Mary Klug; Ruthie (Cordelia Richards), her very pregnant daughter, who also works the line; Jo (Michelle M. Faith), an overweight and overwrought woman looking for love, and Porker (John Pankow), a good-natured handyman who gets dumped on by everyone and finally explodes.

Into their world steps a government inspector (Wendie Malick) who must pass judgment on the quality of the fish they process. It’s an added tension that director Stephen Zuckerman expertly exploits by positioning this watchdog in a glass office high above the factory floor.

The office is part of an impressive plant setting - complete with a walk-in freezer - designed by Edward T. Gianfrancesco. It looks so authentic that you can almost smell the fish.

Horovitz wrote ″North Shore Fish″ for the Gloucester Stage Company, a small troupe he runs in the Massachusetts fishing town. The play was a rousing success with local residents. Their response was understandable, but this marvelous play has more than regional appeal. It should be just as big a hit in New York.

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