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North Shore Fish/Alfred the Great

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North Shore Fish, Paper Moon, at Theatre Building Chicago, and Alfred the Great, Theo Ubique Theatre Company, at the Heartland Studio Theater. Israel Horovitz is one of America's most prolific, uneven dramatists. For every intense, well-written play like The Indian Wants the Bronx there are three like North Shore Fish and Alfred the Great that really could have used another rewrite.

North Shore Fish--the better of the two--ruins a compelling story about a town's major employer going down the tubes with a phony Hollywood-style plot involving a womanizing boss, a hard-assed government inspector, and a possible murder. Even Horovitz's believable working-class dialogue can't make up for the narrative. Which is a shame because director-set designer Jeff Harris has pulled together a great cast. Chris Carpenter delivers a virtuoso performance as the factory's pretty-boy manager, adeptly capturing his pathological need to control the plant and all its workers and his growing hysteria at the realization that he can't. Unfortunately, the play runs out of gas 40 minutes before the final curtain.

The acting in Fred Anzevino's staging of Alfred the Great is much spottier. No one seems particularly committed to or inspired by the play. Even Andy Hager in the lead role of Alfred shows little passion as a businessman out to avenge a past wrong.

But the fault lies less with the production than with Horovitz's derivative, poorly written play. He spends way too much time creating the illusion of everyday conversations--boring and lengthy in any case--and too little telling an original story. Much of Alfred the Great suggests warmed-over Sam Shepard, complete with buried body and over-the-top characters. Whatever doesn't feel like bargain-basement Shepard feels like knockoffs of Jeffrey Sweet, Arthur Kopit, or Edward Albee. Instead of giving us a play we can care about, Horovitz delivers an evening's worth of manipulative, predictable plot twists and just enough gratuitous sex and violence to make one yearn for the real thing.

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