A play with Gloucester roots and a Gloucester story is coming home tonight after productions on stages around the globe.
“North Shore Fish,” by award-winning playwright Israel Horovitz, returns to Gloucester Stage Company where it had its world premiere in 1986. The show runs for three weeks.
Set in the Gloucester fish packing plant North Shore Fish, the action focuses on the workers, mostly women, for whom the plant represents far more than a job — it is a way of life that has been passed down for generations. But in the face of a tectonic shift in the fishing industry, their job security is vanishing.
The dialogue is edgy and the characters spicy, including a philandering plant manager and a government inspector who easily rebuffs the manager’s attempts at seduction. Always expect the unexpected with Horovitz, whose work teams with surprises.
In an unprecedented showing 27 years ago at Gloucester Stage, the play ran for six consecutive months before opening Off Broadway in New York City, thus beginning its journey around the world. The work was nominated for the New York Drama Desk Award as Best New American Play, and a Pulitzer Prize.
Although the play has serious undertones in Horovitz’s singular style, the characters’ conversation often leads to an outburst of laughter from the audience. In one instance, a worker named Florence yells to bring out more frozen fish to keep the line running. She says: “If those blocks melt, the fish’ll come back ta’ life and they are very pissed off about what we’ve be’n doin’ to ’em, I can tell ya’ that.”
Despite the joking and gossip that infuses the work day, the women become aware of a foreboding future.
The depletion of fish stocks, foreign competition and advancements in technology which reduce the need for manual labor all play a role in the plant’s downturn. The fish packing industry, once thriving as it processed the local fleet’s fresh catch, is reduced to repacking frozen fish imported from Japan. At North Shore Fish, they even cut the fish in a “fish-like” shape, which elicits repartee among the actors.