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Men's Lives - Bay Street Theatre Revives a Long Island Classic

"It's not fish ye're buying, it's men's lives." - Sir Walter Scott.

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On July 7th, Bay Street Theatre welcomed back the ever relevant Men’s Lives twenty years after the production had christened the stage with rave reviews. This revival was welcomed with open arms by the Sag Harbor community, and Saturday’s audience included local fishermen, members of the 1992 cast of Men’s Lives, as well as playwright Joe Pintauro. The story of the struggles faced by the Long Island fishermen was as poignant as ever, and the electric ensemble cast truly brought this close-to-home tale to life with their passion – the entire theatre was completely engrossed from the first line spoken, until the final curtain drop.

The stage was set with somewhat of a shipwreck that also served as house and home on the sandy shore, and the weather beaten motif was as beautiful as it is mournful – before the first line was spoken, the audience could already anticipate a less than happy ending. Although this is in part due to a knowledge of the local Long Island History, it is amplified by the melancholy set design perfected by Drew Boyce – a story playing out within a shipwreck can only end in so many different ways. Although the story that is told in Men’s Lives is one of sadness, it is also one of importance – it tells of a family who’s entire life is fishing, and the devastation brought on to them, and their community, as their livelihood is stripped away.

The ensemble cast consisted of Victor Slezak, Rob Disario, Brian Hutchison, Scott Thomas Hinson, Peter McRobbie, Deborah Hedwall, Myles Stokowski and Mark Coffin, and under the direction of Harris Yulin – and the passion put into this production shines through the entire performance.  The theatre itself almost feels as if it were built as a home for this production – the panoramic seating at Bay Street surrounds the stage, encompassing the sandy dunes of that East End beach where Alice and her family of fisherman live. Deborah Hedwall is especially poignant as Alice – when she speaks, you can feel the entire audience hold their breath – her character, a fierce and protective wife and mother, strikes close to home for many, and her anguish in her voices cuts through the room like a knife.  There was not a moment where the entire audience wasn’t captivated – these actors truly brought to life the characters in Men’s Lives in a brutally honest, and human way.

As the times change, and the new incoming population to Long Island’s East End wins the battle in Albany for policy change, the livelihood of the Long Island fishermen is eroded away as if it were the shoreline itself. This not so distant past is an important part of Long Island history that should not be forgotten, and this electrifying production Men’s Lives brings into focus the issues that have affected the East End both past and present. Often times, the issues at the heart of policy change are not cut and dry, or black and white, but instead, a murky grey, and it’s easy to forget that real people get caught up in the middle. Men’s Lives gives a face to the Long Island fishermen who have struggled against the sports fishermen, fish population depleting as the human population grows, and for any Long Islander who is interested in our local history, this is a must-see.

Men’s Lives runs through July 29th at Bay Street Theatre, and you can see the schedule, and purchase tickets here.