Cape of Good Hope

An hour north of Boston, in the northeast corner of Massachusetts, lies a mass of land jutting into the sea -- Cape Ann. Lesser-known and considerably smaller than Cape Cod to the south, Cape Ann is home to the small city of Gloucester, the town of Rockport, and the village of Annisquam. I lived on this tranquil, magical, and often isolated cape for three years. During the long winters, when the cold wind blew off the slate-colored Atlantic, I felt as if I lived at the North Pole. During the short but sublime summers, when the wildflowers were in bloom, I knew I was living in paradise.

Cape Ann's singular beauty has played muse to many artists, renowned and otherwise, including the poet Charles Olson and the painter Edward Hopper. The landscape exerts the initial pull: variegated woods, deep quarries, a rocky coastline, and harbors punctuated by wooden boats. Once you stay for a while, however, the area's enigmatic mix of cultures proves even more compelling. Generations of Portuguese fishing families grow up side by side with stolid, old-moneyed Yankees. Artists converge around the colonies of Rocky Neck and Bear Skin Neck; lawyers, doctors, and teachers share their professional status with chiropractors, masseurs, and aromatherapists. And everyone, aware of their place and their class, condescends to the tourists, who bring traffic to a crawl as they slow down to gawk at the ocean views A as if they've never seen water before.

Playwright Israel Horovitz, founder and artistic director of the Gloucester Stage Company, not only has made Gloucester his home during part of the year, he's designated himself an observer and chronicler of the area's unique society. In a continuing cycle of plays that includes North Shore Fish, Strong Man's Weak Child, and Park Your Car in Harvard Yard, Horovitz documents the rituals, the compromises, and the intimacies of small-town cape living. While some of the dramas are more successful than others, each is distinguished by in-depth characterizations and Horovitz's perfectly pitched ear for the local language, both of which convincingly translate to the stage during the current production of New Theatre's Park Your Car, which kicks off the Coral Gables-based company's tenth anniversary season.

Cantankerous Jacob Brackish (Bill Yule), a retired teacher as briny as his last name, finds he's no longer able to care for himself as well as he used to; as a result, he hires a local woman, Kathleen Hogan (Kimberly Daniel) as his housekeeper. Childless and recently widowed, the solitary Hogan may be apologetic and self-effacing, but she's also as stubborn as her employer, and the two settle into a wary routine together. What appears to be a benign dance between lonely people takes a splendid dip into a darker place by the third scene, in which the characters drop their pretenses and admit to how closely their lives are connected because of events in the past. Only after hammering out that past, as the harsh and exacting northern seasons change from scene to scene throughout the play, can Brackish and Hogan come to any sort of peace with each other, and with themselves.

While the script of Park Your Car suffers from a predictable narrative and an easy resolution, its strength lies in two precisely drawn individuals, and actors Yule and Daniel deepen our understanding of Brackish and Hogan through richly nuanced performances. (Yule underscores Brackish's manipulative nature with a vacant stare as he fakes deafness when Hogan harangues him; Daniel reinforces Hogan's frustrations by furiously peeling vegetables for soup.) Both inhabit their character's skin as comfortably as if it were their own, so that the adversaries' ultimate appreciation and enjoyment of one another seem utterly believable. A pleasure to watch on stage, Yule and Daniel enact a beautifully timed and charming duet without missing a beat. My only reservation was Daniel's accent, which doesn't sound like any of the more than half dozen Massachusetts accents the greater Boston area claims. (Yule achieves slightly more success with a passable Brahminesque intonation.) Yet after a while I stopped analyzing Daniel's speech. Who cares, when such a talented actor more than amply conveys her character's spirit?

Director Rafael de Acha's attention to detail shows in all aspects of the production, including a perennially boiling tea kettle to help Hogan and Brackish through the winter. Michael Thomas Essad creates an authentic Cape Ann set, combining just the right amount of wood and haphazard clutter. Mikuni Ohmae's lighting evokes the changing seasons as well as the shifting interior moods, while sound designer Steve Shapiro provides the requisite effects of foghorns and wind. Make a point of seeing this production of Horovitz's play.

Stage Notes
The folks at New Theatre deserve to crow over an exciting theatrical coup. For the 1995-1996 season, executive artistic director de Acha has secured the rights to Richard Kalinoski's Beast on the Moon, a drama about an immigrant Armenian couple living in Milwaukee in the beginning of this century; the play debuted at this year's Humana Festival of New Plays in Louisville. In a festival marked by obtusely structured plays and almost glib, television-inspired dramas, the more traditional Beast was the undeniable festival hit, receiving standing ovations. Local and regional theaters around the country have been clamoring to produce it, and rumor says it will premiere off-Broadway later this year. Meanwhile, lucky South Floridians can catch it during a six-week run beginning January 5. The drama replaces Jon Robin Baitz's powerful play about marriage, Three Hotels, which will be produced at a later date.

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