“The Tuna Goddess” is a Good Catch at Majestic Theater in West Springfield, MA
There is a great theater just beyond the Capital Region that produces new work with excellent production values and is heartily supported by its community with over 4,200 subscribers. It’s the Majestic Theater in West Springfield, MA and I am always gratified that I made the hour and a half drive. I sometimes feel like a fisherman out trawling the waters looking for good theater. My first trip, I attended the Artistic Director Danny Eaton’s World Premiere of his own play “Iris” at Majestic a few season’s back in the post-holiday doldrums and I’ve returned at least a couple of times a season since charmed by this self-sufficient, thriving, workaday theater. They are opening their 23rd season with “The Tuna Goddess” by Jade Schuyler and directed by Danny. I am excited by this company’s production of an original romantic comedy, despite its flaws, about a young woman who struggles with her feelings of grief and inadequacy questing for an authentic life that will nourish and support her.
Alexandra (Lexi Langs in a terrific multi-faceted performance) has returned to Cape Cod to bury her tuna fisherman father Norman (played in flashback by the affecting Richard H. Clark III) from whom she has become estranged and discovers that he has bequeathed her his fishing boat…but only half of it. The other half is left to his fishing partner for many years, Pete (a lynchpin Erick Kastel). She would sell her half to Pete but he has no money. She quickly, and somewhat improbably, decides to spend the summer working the tuna boat with Pete and soon we are watching the sparks and fish fly.
The playwright has a lot going on within this Hallmark movie framework and she has a powerful emotional instinct setting up confrontations and competing interests that move the play thru the night. Her comedic sense is well toned and she can use misdirection, humorous names, malaprops and offhand comments to great effect. There were plenty of laughs from the nearly full house. Some of the scenes didn’t have a proper end to them and the evening became longer than it needed to be, unfortunately at a critical moment where a flashback which should have gripped me and liberated Alexandra but I was just moved with pity. There were motivations not thoroughly imagined but I was very appreciative of her sense of character, confrontation, dialogue and themes (greatly assisted by Danny Eaton’s direction) which would make me want to see another production of hers without a doubt.
There are very bright standouts in the cast. Lexi Langs is a very welcome protagonist and can easily lead us through many of the plays turns and reversals with appealing humor, energy and intelligence. Erick Kastel as the tight-lipped Pete is a real discovery for me, conveying a weathered authenticity and reticence with great reserves of passion and grit which makes him compulsively watchable. His struggle to come up with the quote that Norm left him with was genuinely touching and suspenseful. I hope that I got it right: ”God favors the man who deems himself rightfully powerless over the woman he loves.” Tom Dahl plays Sully, another competing fisherman we meet on the dock who is an old flame of Lexy’s and he bites into his townie role with relish and burps like a champ, playing joyfully with his first mate Shaun (the enjoyably dim Liam Toner). Larkin Fox plays the young Alexandra freely and without affect and her scenes with Mr. Clark hint at the playwright’s potential poetry with haunting scenes of the past. Noah Tuleja arrives late in the play and has a wonderfully tense scene with Kastel. Finally, the cast is rounded out by the divine Cate Damon who elevates every production she graces. She plays Deb, an old salt of hard-earned wisdom and advice here. Damon’s presence quickens my pulse as I watch contradictory emotions played with the grace and quicksilver natural elegance of a fish swimming in her ocean home. From her opening shriek to her toast to the late Norman she rivets attention in the first scene and does not let go. She never disappoints, her name in the playbill gave me a charge before the show even started.
The proscenium is paneled with weathered wood. Stage right is a great dock and stage left is a cramped bar which inhibited movement somewhat but Center stage is a homey kitchen that when revolved after the first scene revealed a magnificent commercial fishing boat garnering audience applause for a scene change. The cyc of blue upstage promised us seafaring and this set (Greg Trochlil) and lighting (Daniel D. Rist) delivered. Costumes (Dawn McKay were an attractive and appropriate mix of plaids, printed T’s and Boston sports. Sound design (Justin Letellier) was especially effective when the fish start running the line and added significantly to the excitement of the scene.
A new Fall season of theater has arrived and I am very grateful that my first line was pulled tight by “The Tuna Goddess.”
The Majestic Theater thru 10/13