FISH TALES: It's more than mere coincidence that Studio Theater opened its splendid new theater, a former auto repair shop, with Israel Horovitz's play "North Shore Fish," about the women who work on the assembly line at a fish processing plant in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Last year, Horovitz opened his own new theater with the play.
"Our place was a limousine garage around the turn of the century," Horovitz says. "And it's been a warehouse for obsolete fish processing equipment for Gorton's. We were going to take a couple years to open the theater, and we were just about to go into rehearsal with 'North Shore Fish' in the old place. And then we opened the doors to this enormous new place and there was all this fish processing equipment. It was like God said 'Kid, go to East Main Street, I'll take care of you.' "
Horovitz, who was born in Massachusetts, lives in Gloucester and started the Gloucester Stage Company, an Equity theater, nine years ago. "I premiere all my own stuff there," he says. "It's primarily a playwrights' theater; we do almost exclusively new American and British writing that concerns itself with blue collar life," an artistic concern Horovitz shares with Joy Zinoman's Studio Theater.
"When I was a little boy, I used to be taken to Gloucester as this special place to go. So at one point in my life I thought it would be clever to live in there -- why wait till special days? Soon after I got there, it seemed to me that the heroes were the fishermen and the carpenters and if I were really going to put my life down there, I had to open a theater. So I started a theater in an old tavern, and in the summer we did a play a week. The first play was called 'The Former One-On-One Basketball Champ,' and the lights came up on my son Adam -- the Beastie Boy -- spinning a basketball on his finger." Horovitz is going to direct the play for PBS' "American Playhouse," starring Beastie Ad-Rock and Bill Russell, the Boston Celtic great.
"Some years ago I started a cycle of plays that really had as a purpose no more or less than just trying to get down what life was like in our time in our little spot on the planet Earth," Horovitz says. "The two essential events in Gloucester's recent history that have changed it probably forever -- other than my moving to Gloucester and founding a theater -- are Rev. Moon settling there, and the Yuppie discovery of Gloucester real estate. If two 'fish people,' as they call themselves, meet and marry, there isn't a chance in the world that they can buy a house in Gloucester.
"And it used to be that the fishermen came up the shore, sold his fish, there was a processing plant, they cut the fish, froze it, packaged it and sold it. Now the fish business is run by guys in suits and ties in Boston and L.A. and Washington who broker these big blocks of fish, they never see them. Anyway, the fish people, who used to have this kind of heroic view of themselves, still do this kind of terrible work because it keeps them in the fish business."
Horovitz's first Gloucester play was called "Sunday Runners in the Rain," about the local running club set in a donut shop on the day a tornado hits town. Others include "Henry Lumper," about the war for control of the waterfront, and "Mackerel," which attracted some attention when it was produced here by the Folger Theater -- they paraded the play's central prop, an enormous fish, through the Capitol Hill streets. "I started 'North Shore Fish' two, three years ago," Horovitz says. "I take a long time to finish plays. All I wanted to do was deal with what happened to people's dignity when their work was taken away from them. The play's not about the symptoms, it's about the problem."
There's a rumor going around that "Greater Tuna" will be packed away for good after it closes Sunday at Ford's Theatre. "Not so," says Jaston Williams, who wrote the comic play with co-star Joe Sears.
"I never thought when we sat down and wrote this that this would happen," says Williams, who has played half the characters in tiny Tuna, Texas since he and Sears wrote the show for themselves in 1981. Besides their original production, which has made four successful visits to Washington, there's a Norman Lear-directed HBO version, and "Tuna" has been widely produced around the country, including a staging in College Station, Texas, which featured 20 actors and live animals in the 20 roles Williams and Sears usually create all by their little old selves. "As long as you treat the characters with love, it doesn't matter to me how many actors you use," says Williams, who, with Sears, has cast and coached two actors so the offically sanctioned "Tuna" can travel while the creators are busy with other things.
There are no immediate plans for a "Tuna II," but Sears has written a play he hopes to have produced at the Spoleto festival and Williams is working on a film project ("about as much as I can say is it deals with Western wear") and is directing a collaborative theater piece called "American Window," featuring the work of seven writers and 15 actors, to open in Austin in February. The Texas-born actors prefer to try out their stuff in Austin, but admit to an affection and affinity for Washington, which Williams says is "just like Austin, only dressed up."
Letter from Edinburgh: Five Washington actors took their production of the Polish political satire "Clowns" to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland, and got decent houses and good notices from the press, but still had to compete with about 500 other itinerant troupes for publicity.
Cast member Ritchie Porter writes: "We managed to get some extra attention when some audacious soul scaled the city's monuments one night to put clown noses on the likes of Wellington, William Pitt and George IV. Our troupe was already promoting the show on the streets of Edinburgh wearing our red clown noses. It even made the front page of The Scotsman. We always denied any involvement with a twinkle in the eye.
"We managed to shake up our venue, the Royal Scots Club, during each show when Lory Leshin had to exit through the audience and then race down a stairwell to pass through the snooker room on her way to another stairwell which took her back up to the stage. Every day at 2:14 p.m. she'd tear through the smoky game room in full clown garb, much to the amusement and amazement of the staid Scottish war veterans who patronized the club. On the street we competed with jugglers, fire-eaters, Houdini impersonators . . . while we tried like heck to promote the show. One of our cast, Bernie Collins outdid us all by climbing up the scaffolding outside of the Fringe ticket office one evening in the hopes of putting some posters on one of the last remaining open surfaces in the city. He was stopped and scolded by a policewoman who made him promise to go straight home." Other cast members included Karin Abromaitis and Doug Anderson.
The third annual SourceWorks reading series opens at Source Theater's Main Stage Monday at 8 p.m. with Mark Berman's "Stars Out Tonight," about five '50s actresses who meet up again when they all show up for an audition for a grade-B horror movie. Davey Marlin-Jones directs a cast that includes his wife, Maggie Winn-Jones. The five-week series continues with plays on Monday and Tuesday nights (and occasional Sunday afternoons), with playwriting groups: The Capital Playwriting Project, the Playwright's Unit and The Playwriting Forum. "Just think, you may be able to say, 'I saw it first,' " says Source literary manager Keith Parker, explaining the benefits of attending a playreading. "And the audience has an input, an opinion that can be offered at the discussion after each play." A $3 donation is requested. Call 462-1073.