Harlequin's ‘Gloucester Blue’ takes wry look at the 1 percent

Contributing writerMay 9, 2013 

  • ‘GLOUCESTER BLUE’

    What: Harlequin Productions’ fifth collaboration with acclaimed playwright Israel Horovitz is a dark comedy set in the economically troubled town of Gloucester, Mass.

    When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, plus May 16-18 and 23-25 and May 30-June 1; 2 p.m. Sunday, plus May 19 and 26

    Where: State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia

    Tickets: $32 for adults, $28 for seniors and military, $20 for students. Discounted rush tickets are available a half-hour prior to curtain.

    Information: 360-786-0151, harlequinproductions.org

    Talk-backs: Horovitz will attend the play May 23 and 24, and will answer questions after those performances.

“Gloucester Blue” — the latest Israel Horovitz play to find its way to Harlequin Productions’ stage — tells the story of a wealthy couple converting a former fish-packing plant into a vacation home.

“Gloucester was just devastated by the collapse of the fishing industry,” said director Scot Whitney. “The whole economy collapsed. The mafia came in and was paying fisherman to run heroin. It was horrible. People are still unemployed.

“On the other hand, there are the fabulously wealthy people in these incredible houses.”

But while the play, opening tonight, sounds like something inspired by the Occupy movement, Horovitz said he isn’t pushing any political agenda.

“ ‘Gloucester Blue’ is certainly a class-struggle play, once again touching upon the death of the working class,” the playwright said. “I hope I’m fair to the 1 percent in this play. I’ve tried to be. It’s nobody’s fault to be born poor or rich, is it?”

That isn’t to say that the characters are necessarily likeable. “Once again, I’ve put people on stage many would cross the street to avoid in life,” he said. “My purpose as always is to help an audience find affection for people they would avoid in life.”

Like “Sins of the Mother” – which Whitney directed in 2009 – the play is part of Horovitz’s Gloucester series, all dealing with life in the small Massachusetts town.

The series was inspired by feedback Horovitz received from the legendary Thornton Wilder years ago. When he was fresh out of graduate school, Horovitz wrote a trilogy of plays set in his hometown, Wakefield, Mass., and gave them to Wilder to read.

“He was full of praise,” Horovitz recalls. “But at the end he spoke one sentence that changed my writing for years to come: ‘Of course, there isn’t a lot of Wakefield in your Wakefield plays.’

“I understood what he was telling me: My plays were filled with literary allusion but very little human flesh.

“Every young writer should have a Thornton Wilder in his/her life.”

Both director and playwright were vague about the specifics of the ‘Gloucester Blue’ plot — “A play without surprise will soon be a play without an audience,” Horovitz said — but one thing is for sure: It’s written to be funny.

“The tone of ‘Gloucester Blue’ is something new for me,” the playwright said. “In my attempt not to write the same play over and over again, I’ve written, possibly for the first time, an extremely dark comedy. I think the play is really funny. Some may find it unfunny, maybe even a tad disgusting.”

As for Whitney, he knew he had to direct the play — having just its second production here in Olympia — the moment Horovitz described it to him.

“I had actually planned to do something else in this time slot,” the director said. “A year ago February, we got an email from Israel saying: “I’m sending this to you first. It’s kind of like ‘Sins of the Mother,’ only darker and funnier. I just cracked up. Darker and funnier than ‘Sins of the Mother’?

“Sure enough, it is. It’s wicked funny.”

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