Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern

Sins of the Mother

See John's review of The Great American Trailer Park Musical and articles on Theatres on the Move

Brian Claudio Smith (back to camera), Gordon McConnell and David Nail
The Florida Stage presents the Southeastern premiere of Israel Horovitz's Sins of the Mother. The play, part of Horovitz's Gloucester cycle, tells the story of five men in a small New England fishing town, their closely held secrets, and the truths that threatens to tear the town apart.

Set in Gloucester, the center of Sins of the Mother is held by Bobby Maloney, a Vietnam veteran in his mid-50s. He has a terminally ill wife and bleak job prospects as the declining fishing industry has brought lean times to Gloucester. He regularly runs into fellow unemployed fisherman Dubbah and Frankie at a fish processing plant, where they go in search of jobs that don't exist. They manage to hold onto the most meager of hope as they leave with only signatures that verify they inquired after work, so that they can collect unemployment. One morning, as he awaits the opening of the processing plant office, Bobby meets Dougie Shimmatarro. Dougie is a young, local man who has returned home after being away for some time. Dubbah and Frankie arrive and are introduced to Dougie as well. It seems that Dougie's mother, through a slowly unwound chain of events, connects them all. In this case, the chain that connects them does not strengthen them as a whole, but drags them down with its emotional burden. Remembrance ultimately turns to resentment and revenge. The sins of their revenge unite their present as the "sins" of Dougie's mother united their past.

There is a dark nature to this piece that speaks to our inability to extricate ourselves from the poor choices of our parents. There is an undeniably harsh reality of being born into poor socio-economic times and dysfunctional families. Moving stories of triumph may arise from conquering such adversity, and sometimes heart-wrenching stories of pain from being conquered by the adversity . Sins of the Mother is certainly not a story of triumph, and if it aims at being heart-wrenching, it misses the mark. Somehow, despite some emotional self-disclosure by Dubbah, Frankie and Bobby, the audience is not invested enough to empathize. There is only one moment in the show that evokes a discernible response from the audience only due to its graphic nature and surprise delivery (a complete explanation here would ruin the moment).

Gordon McConnell is a deft character actor who manages to find depth to any character and decorate them with quirks. He does not disappoint in his portrayal of Bobby, as he has the right amount of grit and heart. All appreciation of quirks aside, however, he so thoroughly licks and sucks each of the fingers of his right hand after each bite of a breakfast bagel that I wanted to scream. It felt like he was setting up a character compulsion he never followed through on, so instead it comes off as nervous actor energy. Brian Claudio Smith plays the double role of identical twins Frankie and Philly. He is perfect as Frankie—on edge—a wise guy who doesn't know when to stop pushing. He shows diversity in his portrayal of Philly, who is cool and odd. David Nail shows wonderful timing as Dubbah, and makes the most of his comedic moments and the slightly nerdy nature of his character. McConnell, Nail and Smith are all very good in their roles. Against these three strong actors, Francisco Solorzano seems a bit bland. The majority of the action and the emotional movement of the show does not rest with his character, however (though is motivated by who/what he represents), so perhaps this is a choice by the director.

It is said to be unwise for authors to direct their own work. It may be that playwright Israel Horovitz would have benefited from a crisp objective view of his play Sins of the Mother. Pacing issues abound in this production. The second act is far too long, and spaces between line deliveries are laborious. Dialect work is spotty. The script makes a point of telling us that the correct Gloucester way of pronouncing the word "half" is "hahf". Yet not a minute later, Gloucester native, Philly asks for "Half a glass", and pronounces it "Hahf a glass" rather than "Hahf a glahs." It's the same vowel, and anyone whose been to this area would know the pronunciation was wrong. Most importantly, Horovitz has thrown in bits of comedy that work far better than the dramatic content. The comedic moments are the best part of the show. Horovitz would do well to trade his heavy-handed approach to the events in which the men indulge in their revenge for a more comedic one. Without comedy it is not believable that the men would participate in or be complicit to these appalling acts.

Israel Horovitz has written more than seventy plays, translated into as many as thirty languages. He is the recipient of two Obie Awards, a Sony Radio Academy Award (for Man In Snow), a Writers Guild of Canada Best Screenwriter Award, the Christopher Award, a Drama Desk Award, an Award in Literature of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, an Elliot Norton Prize, a Lifetime Achievement Award from B'nai B'rith, the Literature Prize of Washington College, Boston Public Library's Literary Lights Award, the Walker Hancock Prize, the Massachusetts Governor's Award, and the Arts Award of the City of Gloucester, Massachusetts, (honoring Horovitz's 12 Gloucester-based plays). He is Founding Artistic Director of Gloucester Stage, and active Artistic Director of the New York Playwrights Lab, and teaches a master class in screen writing at Columbia University and La Fèmis, France's national film school. His best known plays include Line (NYC's longest-running play, now in its 37th year, off-Broadway), The Indian Wants The Bronx. Rats, Morning, The Primary English Class, The Wakefield Plays (a 7-play cycle composed of Alfred the Great, Our Father's Failing, Alfred Dies, Hopscotch, The 75th, Stage Directions and Spared), The Widow's Blind Date, The Growing Up Jewish Trilogy (composed of Today I Am A Fountain Pen, A Rosen By Any Other Name and The Chopin Playoffs), Park Your Car In Harvard Yard, North Shore Fish and Fighting Over Beverley. His newest play, What Strong Fences Make, was written in response to Caryl Churchill's Seven Jewish Children. He is currently completing a new play entitled The P Word.

Sins of the Mother will be appearing at the Florida Stage through March 7, 2010. The theater is located in Plaza del Mar, at 262 S. Ocean Blvd. in Manalapan. Performance days/times are normally Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 p.m.; Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoon at 2:00 p.m.; and Sundays at 7:00 p.m.. Tickets and other information may be obtained by calling the box office at (561) 585-3433 or (800) 514-3833, or visiting

Florida Stage is a professional theater, with extensive programs for young artists, hiring Equity and non-Equity performers from across the United States. Florida Stage is a member of the Theatre Communications Group, the League of Resident Theatres, the Florida Professional Theatre Association, the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, and the National New Play Network. They are funded in part by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the county of Palm Beach Tourist Develop.m.ent Fund and the Florida Arts Council, with generous support from The Shubert Foundation, The Heckscher Foundation for Children, The Duane & Dalia Stiller Charitable Trust, Gulf Stream Lumber, Northern Trust Bank of Florida N.A., Fidelity Federal Bank & Trust, and hundreds of individuals and corporations. The Florida Stage remains the only professional theatre in Southeast Florida producing exclusively new and emerging works.

Bobby Maloney: Gordon McConnell*
Dougie Shimmatarro: Francisco Solorzano*
Frankie Verga/ Philly Verga: Brian Claudio Smith*
Dubbah Morrison: David Nail*

Director: Israel Horovitz
Scenic Design: Richard Crowell
Lighting Design: Suzanne M. Jones
Sound Design: Matt Kelly
Costume Design: Erin Amico**
Production Stage Manager: James Danford*

* Designates member of Actors' Equity Association: the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.

**Designates member of United Scenic Artists

Photo: Ken Jacques Photography

See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere