“My bounty is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep…”
Playwright Alison Weller chose from Juliet’s words to Romeo as the title for her play that opened this past week at the Cape Rep Theatre in Brewster because the sea is indeed “Boundless.” A fisherman’s love for the sea is also boundless. Despite the obvious obstacles of the dangers on the sea, and now the strangling modern rules and regulations, a fisherman still loves the sea, the boundless sea.
Weller’s interviews with local fishermen, their families and bureaucrats led to a spellbinding portrayal of the industry today and what it was in the past. Which came first for the playwright, her interest in the occupation or the discovery of the magic a fisherman is privy to, is a chicken and the egg kind of thing. When I tended bar at the Chatham Squire for a couple decades through the same time frame the play reenacts, I witnessed the heyday of fishing and the struggles of the present, and often wondered how do they continue this back-breaking work? Why do they want to deal with all the red tape? What kind of living is this? But I learned, as Weller did, when you listen to a fisherman, you’ll hear about the allure, the magic of the sea, of how it feels being out on the ocean. “I made a lot of bad decisions, but it leads to better stories!” said one fisherman.
Weller listened to many fishermen, and if you live in the Chatham area, many you’ll recognize even though the names have been changed. She talked to trappers, longliners, gillnetters, shellfishermen and more. The world premiere play is enlightening on so many levels. Your appreciation for this life-risking occupation will grow, as the characters deal with the futility of government interference and yet never lose the resolve and fortitude necessary to carry on. The couple next to me was inspired enough to say that Cape Rep should bring this play to Washington, D.C.!
Director Art Devine has assembled a stellar cast who easily morphed from one character to another. Through the mesmerizing performances of Tom Andrew, Marty Brent, Jessica Georges, McNeely Myers, Stephen Russell and Paul Schuyler, you’ll learn that the allure of the sea is passed on from generation to generation and is as strong for a washashore or an inlaw. This is the “finest kind” of storytelling; those of monster catches (“thousands of pounds of fish”), near misses on the bar (“I thought I was going to drown”) and playing chicken with the wind (“fishermen can be greedy…”). The troupe also portrays the scientists and the officials who interfere with “answers” that wreak havoc with the fisherman’s livelihood.
This play, this experience, will move you to tears, and yet moments will make you laugh out loud. It’s hard to pick a particular highlight; was it Georges’ song about the seals, or Myers’ turn as a Woods Hole scientist? Or maybe Andrew’s soliloquy about his near-drowning (if fellow cast member Schuyler hadn’t squeezed his shoulder, I think someone from the audience would have)? Maybe it was Russell’s logical lecture about the seal problem; or Brent’s compelling speech on the frustrations or Schuyler’s frenetic fishing tales? There are so many more lovely moments, but none better then when they describe their love for what they do, what they experience as they work.
Devine, and his production crew (set designer, Phil Kong; lighting design, Susan Nicholson and projection design, Lisa Renkel) capture the essence of their words through a stellar set composed of weir traps that work as scrims which are lit up with images that enhance but never detract. The well-written music and lyrics (Weller and Peter Hodgson) are catchy (pun intended) and memorable. Paddo Devine (guitar) and Joshua Martin (keyboard) were fantastic. The finishing touches were costumes by Robin McLaughlin, choreography by Meredith Langton (the “hauling” segment was excellent), project consultant Owen Nichols and the steady hand of stage manager Kate Gulden.
Go see this show, experience this show. I guarantee you’ll be on your feet at its conclusion just as the audience was the night we were there.
At Cape Rep Theatre
Through Dec. 3, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. No shows Nov. 8, 22 and 23. Post-show talkbacks: Nov. 9, 12, 16, 19 and 30.
Information and reservations: 508-896-1888, www.caperep.org