. . . but it still could be even better.
And that, I think, is good news. Already it's the strongest local "new play" of 2009, and the production up at Gloucester Stage (which closes this weekend) is likewise one of the best of the year, and a splendid finish to the company's 30th anniversary season (which has been consistently strong). It's also a testament to the phenomenal staying power of Israel Horovitz, who at a spry and vital 70 has demonstrated once again that he hasn't lost his touch - even if this time he hasn't quite attained his full reach.
Although to be bluntly honest, he's had the time - Sins first took a bow as a one-act six years ago, and the current two-and-a-half-act version has already hit the boards in Olympia, Washington (and is rumored to be destined for New York). As a result, it's highly crafted. Highly crafted - at times the dialogue could serve as the basis for a master class in late naturalism. And the actors at Gloucester - some of whom have worked their way through the material before - have, under Horovitz's own direction, matched his craft with an ensemble of performances impressive in their subtlety and technique.
The violence (from Robert Walsh) may not surprise, but it still shocks.
The setting (as it has so often been for Horovitz) is Gloucester, in particular its working class underbelly, where down-on-their-luck stevedores and fishermen rub elbows with the town hookers and drug dealers - and in hard times even join their ranks. That's the dark secret casting a long shadow, in classic theatrical style, over a quartet of unemployed men hanging out in a union hall in Horovitz's taut first act, in which the playwright almost revels in his pitch-perfect ear for the local dialect, while steadily insinuating the threat of violence beneath his characters' camaraderie.
Needless to say, that threat becomes all too real in Horovitz's first-act climax, which is hardly surprising (yet still an effective shock). It's hard to say more, however, about Horovitz's second act without giving too much away about the dramatic cards he has up his authorial sleeve. Yet I admit I'm itching to, because I feel that even in this latest iteration, the playwright is still palming his ace. Suffice to say Horovitz has constructed an intriguing game of cat-and-mouse for his second act, which leads to a surprisingly original twist - one that could potentially vault the play into small-classic territory. But Horovitz doesn't develop this shift nearly enough (I will say that it represents the moral difference between impulsive and pre-meditated crime); instead he basically reprises material from his first act to hustle the characters through his last moral hoop.
Which is too bad, because he has a fine cast here that would certainly be up to further challenges. The sudden shuffling particularly short-changes the charismatic Francisco Solorzano (as the returning native who sets the gears of the plot in motion), and the appealingly dim David Nail (as the buddy caught by mischance in fate's machinations). Most of the second-act dramatic riches instead go to leads Robert Walsh and Christopher Whalen, and both are particularly memorable; indeed, I don't think Walsh, a mainstay of the Actors' Shakespeare Project, has ever been better. Meanwhile Whalen, who hails from New York, proves a particular find, and neatly essays a classic method-acting problem (he plays identical twins) while keeping the two characters' externals (even their accents) exactly alike. One last note to the author, though - a central theme, that of the interlocking "known-ness" of the Gloucester community, is beautifully evoked throughout. Surely, therefore, the strange, subverting presence of the second, "shadow" twin deserves a bit more contemplation. That - and a deeper development of the second-act twist - could make this Mother nearly immaculate.