GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

April 19, 2012

Musical, moving portrait of fishermen's wives

By Gail McCarthy
Staff Writer

A musical called "Six Pairs of Hands" and presented by the Regis College Theatre Company will debut Friday night at The Cape Ann Theater, also known as The Annie, at 1 Washington St.

And in coming to Gloucester, the presentation is returning to its roots — the Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association.

The musical was created by Wendy Lement and her Regis students, based on oral histories obtained from interviewing members of the Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association, founded in 1969.

"The original musical honors the extraordinary lives and the political battles waged and won by these courageous women," said Lement in a prepared statement. There will be five performances in Gloucester, following a run at the Casey Theatre at Regis College in Weston where the cast received a standing ovation.

"They put their heart and soul into this production," said Nina Groppo, a member of the Gloucester Fisheremen's Wives since 1978. "It's very moving."

The students came to Gloucester where they interviewed fishermen's wives, including association president Angela Sanfilippo and vice president Sefatia Romeo.

"They asked what was it like growing up, and how does it feel to be the wife of a fishermen and so on," said Groppo, who serves on the association's board of directors. "I think they got this vision and transformed these interviews into this production."

Sanfilippo said she was humbled by their desire to stage a story about their lives.

"The Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association always dreamed of having their story told in a play," she said. "To be a musical is even better.

"We hope that our message of commitment and hard work carries far and wide across the globe," she said. "The same issues that we have been battling for the last 41 years are being fought all around the world."

When the students interviewed Groppo, they asked her what is it like to be the wife of a fisherman.

"I said as the wife of a fisherman, we pray and we hope," said Groppo. "They wrote a song about it — called 'Hope and Pray.'"

At the opening at Regis College, the students told the audience how they got an understanding about the lives of fishermen and their families as well as the issues surrounding the fishing industry in general because of listening to the stories of these women.

"They immersed themselves into their characters. I think they get emotional themselves," said Groppo, adding that the student who portrayed Romeo was made for that part.

In addition to Sanfilippo, Romeo and Groppo, the others portrayed include Josephine Taormina, Grace Favazza, Rosalie Liachino, Gerri Lovasco, Maria Cannavo. Several other association members are mentioned as well.

Sanfilippo recently spoke at Regis' Heritage Week on the topic, "Grassroots Political Action and Global Efforts to Save Our Oceans: Local Fishing Industry and Environmentalists Working Together."

The Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association was formed decades ago to fight federal regulations that hurt the small-time fisherman. Since then, the association has become an international model for conserving and protecting fish stocks and a working waterfront for future generations. The association fields calls from people across the country and around the world who are looking for advice and support.

"Through their dedication, solidarity and faith, these remarkable women have endured numerous hardships, obstacles, and tragedies with strength of spirit and grace," Lement said. "The lives of these extraordinary women are inspiring, and we are very pleased to be able to take this Regis production to their hometown. This is the first time we have toured an entire oral history production to a theater."

Lement, the playwright and director, is an educator and author, who wrote the song lyrics for "Six Pairs of Hands" as a project of her Fall 2011 Oral History and Performance Course.

Lement also has written a children's book and over a dozen plays about historical events.

Gail McCarthy may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3445 or gmccarthy@gloucestertimes.com.

If you go

What: "Six Pairs of Hands, "a theater work about wives of Gloucester fishermen.

Where: The Cape Ann Theatre (The Annie) at 1 Washington St. in Gloucester.

When: Friday and Saturday, April 20 and 21, at 7:30 p.m.; April 21 and 22 at 2 p.m.; and Sunday, April 22 at 5 p.m.

Contact: Henry Allen: 978-704-1269 for tickets and information. Advance tickets at www.TheAnnie.org.