Articles and Reviews for MEN'S LIVES!
Review From East Hampton Star by T.E. McMorrow:
Review from Dan's Papers by Dr. Dan Koontz:
The play Men’s Lives, on stage through July 29 in revival at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, is set right here in the dunes of the East End. Twenty years ago, Men’s Lives premiered at Bay Street as the theatre’s inaugural production. Adapted by Joe Pintauro from the book by Peter Mathiessen, the play dramatizes the situation faced by the remnants of the Bonackers, the baymen who have fished the local waters for generations. Grounded by a solid cast, under the nimble direction of Harris Yulin, Men’s Lives is a moving portrayal of a way of life under assault from without and within.
While the play takes place in the not-so-distant past, for the family of fishermen depicted in the play it could practically be pre-industrial days. They are haul seining, rowing dories, mending nets, and tracking fish in the same way their ancestors did. Powerboats are spoken of as something newfangled. The mother, Alice (a boisterous Deborah Hedwall), talks proudly of birthing and raising her family in her humble shack on the dunes, heated by a wood stove. The kids start working young, they’re frequently in mortal peril from the “freak seas,” and they base their self-worth on their capacity for hard work. Un-calloused hands are a mark of shame. Grown old, they have neither the means nor desire to retire. The title Men’s Lives comes from Sir Walter Scott’s quote, which pretty much sums it up: “It’s not fish ye’re buying, it’s men’s lives.”
In the play, the East End baymen are the specific subject, but their tragedy can be understood as the tragedy of any traditional population that falls victim to a “colonial” invasion. The baymen are forced to compete with mechanized fishing operations that drive down prices. Development leads to pollution that kills off scallops and diminishes fishing stocks. Sports fishermen, or “sporties,” as the baymen call them, blame haul seining for the fish depletion and lobby to have the practice outlawed. The cumulative effect of these changes, as shown in the play, is an economic squeezing of the family, who then face the prospect of going to work performing menial tasks for the very people who they feel destroyed their livelihood. For a fiercely proud and independent breed, this subjugation would be worse than death.
It’s not all black and white, however. The father, Walt (Peter McRobbie, playing the wise old salt), admits to misgivings about the environmental impact of his way of life. He points to its terrible impact on his own body. But Alice urges him to resist change, saying, “This is what we drowned for. This is what we held on through the winters for.”
Eldest son Lee (the convincing Brian Hutchison) is the most devastated by the coming changes. He never finished high school, and is deeply suspicious of “upstreeters,” as Bonackers call the non-Bonacker population of East Hampton. Most importantly, he can’t imagine a way of life beyond the world he knows. It is through Lee that the play asks its most poignant question: what happens when a man can no longer do the only thing he knows, the only thing he loves? Is it worth it to go on?
It is certainly well worth it to go see the play. All of the actors turn in fabulous performances, with standout performances from Brian Hutchison and young Myles Stokowski as Nate. The set, designed by Andrew Boyce, is very effective, especially when combined with the evocative ocean sounds, courtesy of sound designer David Bullard. At an hour and a half, with no intermission, the show packs a huge amount of knowledge and emotion into a brief time frame, and does so with startling grace.
Men’s Lives runs through Sunday, July 29. Performances Tuesdays through Sundays, 8 p.m. Matinees Wednesdays at 2 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m. Tickets are $56 and $66. Call 631-725-9500 or visit www.baystreet.org.
Review From the Huffington Post by Regina Weinreich:
Twenty years after it first played to sold out audiences, Joe Pintauro's Men's Lives, based upon Peter Matthiessen's 1986 history of the Baymen on the East End of Long Island, seems as weather beaten and vital as ever in its current revival at Bay Street Theater. Drew Boyce's set features something of a shipwreck moored on a sandy beach. Around the hull, a fine ensemble: Victor Slezak, Rob Disario, Brian Hutchison, Scott Thomas Hinson, Peter McRobbie, Deborah Hedwall, Myles Stokowski and Mark Coffin, under the expert direction of Harris Yulin, limns the plight of one family, telling an epic story: man battles nature, learning to survive with its harsh imperatives, and then must face a greater challenge, the onset of the new. Anyone who has lived in these parts witnessing potato fields morph into mini-plantations sees this change with a rueful eye. The real estate is worth more for developing properties than farming. Take that drama to the seas: Men's Lives is a searing poetic vision of this region's fishing industry's demise, and its cost to men's lives.
At Saturday night's opening, several of the original Baymen were present, including Mickey Miller who went to Albany to fight the outsider gentlemen who lobbied to end the practice of fishing with nets.
In 1993, a year after its successful opening at Bay Street, Men's Lives was revived. At that time, I had a chance to speak to Sag Harbor playwright Joe Pintauro about his work. We met midpoint, at Amagansett's (now gone) Honest Diner. Originally published in Hamptons Magazine, here is some of our talk:
How did you come to translate Peter Matthiessen's book into a play, and what were the challenges?
People who have seen my poetry and fiction believed that I would be able to carry them through this complex delicate existential swim in which a work changes its form. Peter's writing is discreet and intentionally thought out. Mine is gaudy and a little reckless. Peter is able to capture speech patterns of far away people with great exactitude. When I started this work, I felt the poetic values would be foremost. Actors found it difficult to pronounce some of the beautiful prose arias. So I kept changing the play in favor of action.
How does the theme of betrayal pertain to Men's Lives?
We betray each other in this society. We live lifetimes under the influence of rivalrous instincts, people disclaiming responsibility for one another. In the case of Men's Lives, sportsmen have a problem with the Baymen fishing. The Baymen -- only a few are left -- still speak with the accents of Dorset and Kentish England. They live in East Hampton and Amagansett, not far from the Honest Diner. They came to this country before any of us, and learned to fish from the Indians. They fish the way Christ fished -- with nets. Haul seining. A sein is a net like a sieve. Haul is to pull it in. They used to do this with horses before the pickup trucks. They'd go out into the ocean, lay a net, stretch it out and bring it around like a big horseshoe, come back onto the beach. What was in it was your dinner. The sports fishermen think they are entering into a kind of elegant male contest with the fish, and they are fighting with lies and realizing, the lies work.
I don't get it. Why can't the sports fishermen simply coexist with the Baymen?
Ask them. I don't have an answer.
How are politics germane to this discussion?
The Baymen are simple men, but they had to become activists. These steamrollers coming at your culture are so much bigger than you are, but what are you going to do? You get up and fight.
Why are you and others like Billy Joel getting behind this cause?
People love this place, love nature, love the spiritual; those who comprehend the delicate balances that make up this piece of geography and know the Baymen, who they are, how they fish, and their roots in the early history get behind this cause. Let's not destroy the essential elements that continue to bring character to this place.
Is it too late?
It would be wonderful to drive out to Gosman's Dock, to sit in the screened porch with little holes in it, where for $2.25 you got about 500 soft shell clams on a huge oval shaped metal tray. Then suddenly it became a Disney theme park. Still we drive out there. What the hell!
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.
CLICK ON LINK for review by Dawn Watson on 27east.com; and published in the East Hampton Press and Southampton press:
From Newsday; a review by Steve Parks:
Recalling a lost East End way of life
Twenty years ago — the night before "Men’s Lives," the first-ever production at Bay Street Theater previewed—Billy Joel and then-East Hampton Supervisor Tony Bullock were arrested for seine-hauling striped bass. The ancient netting technique, which Montaukett Indians taught English settlers three centuries ago, had just been banned by Albany.
"But," as I wrote in a July1992 Newsday review, "no act of civil disobedience could speak as eloquently as Joe Pintauro’s characters." The same can be said today of the author’s oral history. In life, as in the play, New York legislators bowed to entreaties by environmentalists and sport fishermen to ban a practice purported to endanger a species. Instead, livelihoods went extinct.While this East End way of life could not be saved, director Harris Yulin and his cast have preserved and elevated Pintauro’s moving polemic, a fitting kickoff to Bay Street’s 20th anniversary celebration. Neither the playwright nor Peter Matthiessen, author of the book on which it is based, pretends to balance his case. It’s a story told from the baymen’s viewpoint because they had no one to tell it. No one except Matthiessen, portrayed by Victor Slezak in a powerfully empathetic narration.
"Men’s Lives" focuses on one hardworking family living in a beach shack. Alice, the proud matriarch played unyieldingly by Deborah Hedwall, remembers when "there was as much forest behind us as ocean in front of us." But their Hamptons turf is McMansion-ized by "upstreeters" and weekend fishermen more interested in preserving sport than other men’s lives.
Husband Walt, played with a rough kindness by Peter McRobbie, wearies of the battle. It’s too late for eldest son Lee, fiercely frustrated as played by Brian Hutchison, to change careers. Kid brother William (Rob DiSario) chafes at the idea of vocational training.
Their enemies — a sport fisherman and a senator — are represented by fittingly obnoxious Mark Coffin. Ever-present risks in their work are dramatized by a compelling Scott Thomas Hinson and a lost child (Myles Stokowski). Drew Boyce’s sand-andboardwalk set, surrounding a dory relic, captures a time that refused to stand still.