Seems there’s interest in “Barking Sharks” as a possible movie property. Which makes some sense since Israel Horovitz’s latest work gives far more evidence of being a screenplay than a stage play, sitting unconvincingly in the Gloucester Stage Company’s small theater while begging for the fluidity and locale specificity of film, with its 23 scenes ranging over a 25-year period from Madison Avenue to Gloucester fishing boats at sea. Its laudable attempts at the epic and tragic are equally unconvincing, lapsing into almost “Way Down East” melodrama in act two. Usually Horovitz displays, at the very least, technical expertise and a sure sense of theater. Nothere.
There’s the seed of commentary about late 20th-century spiritual malaise and loss of belief and direction in life. But Horovitz is all over the place in his nurturing of that seed. There are far too many self conscious references to Kant, Sartre, Heidegger, existentialism and so on for the play’s good, and too many blatant attempts to establish the central character’s educational and financial superiority to those he left behind in Gloucester. And the basic plot is almost impossible to swallow.
It is this: Eddie Ciolino, a Gloucester fisherman’s son, is given every opportunity by his loving parents and, in the early ’70s, is sent off to New York to further his education. He stays there and over the next 25 years is highly successful in advertising. But then a client, who has revealed that nothing in life gives him pleasure and that he despises his entire family, dies of a heart attack in the revolving door of Eddie’s office building.
This causes Eddie to have a massive emotional crisis and to decide that since he’s always hated his life in New York he’ll return to Gloucester and become a fisherman, even though everyone knows the fishing industry in Gloucester is all but dead. He renews his love affair of 25 years earlier with the female member of the Gloucester folk-rock trio Barking Sharks, of which he was also a member. And when her fisherman husband, the other member of the trio, is lost at sea in a violent storm, Eddie takes out his fishing boat, untried and solo, to find his best buddy, dead or alive. Not only is the play written as if for film or television, but it’s also directed by Michael Allosso in a way that encourages empty pauses between lines and long breaks between scenes. To compound matters, the role of Eddie as an adult is badly miscast from both a physical and personality standpoint. Actor Richard McElvain is hopelessly out of his element.
Not so John Fiore, who has taken over (from Robert Walsh) the role of the Barking Sharks singerturned-fisherman who is lost at sea. He looks and acts the part with easy believability.
Former New Kids on the Block member Joseph McIntyre is also believable as both Eddie as a teenager in the play’s opening scene and as Eddie’s son. All of the women — Jennifer Brule as Sara, the female member of the Barking Sharks, as a teenager, and as her daughter, Dori May Kelly as the adult Sara; and Jane Nichols as the literary agent Eddie marries — are just fine.
The weathered wood seet with its varied levels and steps effectively evokes Gloucester with the help of projections of colored slides. But it’s not remotely effective at suggesting New York or interiors.
“Barking Sharks” is a more ambitious play than some of Horovitz’s other recent works. But both play and production are also far less successful than the playwright’s previous new offering, “Unexpected Tenderness,” and lack the veracity of “North Shore Fish,” one of the truest of the dozen Gloucester plays Horovitz has now written.