John Cox is brave. A former U. S. Army Airborne Ranger, he came to full knowledge of himself after mustering out, when, at loose ends, he travelled to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to take an entry level job on a commercial fishing boat in the brutal Bering Sea. John Cox is smart. After three years of the most grueling kind of dangerous work – a man died, others were injured during his tenure – he headed for college in Southern California, where he discovered a passion for acting and the theatre. John Cox is brave, smart and artistically gifted. While holding down a day-job as a longshoreman on the docks of Long Beach, he turned playwright and over a five-year period crafted a one-man show based on his experiences.
Holding forth on a stage for somewhere in the neighborhood of seventy-five minutes is one of the bravest things an actor can do and John Cox does it with exceptional élan, spinning a fascinating tale filled with characters and situations keenly remembered and vividly recreated. The story is one of self-actualization and the achieving of full potential. The John Cox of the story has demons in his past that must be expunged. He has challenges that he confronts head-on and through shear grit and bootstrap determination rises to a position of prominence in the necessarily cramped confines of the ship.
In Hudson’s tiny, forty-three-seat Guild Stage, Mr. Cox renders life aboard the fishing vessel with its harsh conditions, situations and individuals with tremendous physicality, making dramatic the people and situations. With wonderful economy, his characters are created in a few simple brush strokes of Zen-like precision. The foul, chain-smoking captain is rendered in three quick movements of a cigarette and a pinched voice. The Japanese company men bark out commands in nearly unintelligible syllables. And his voice and manner turn gentle when his Korean female shipmate, a government mandated observer, speaks sense to him. There are no lags, gaps or hesitations in his storytelling. He owns the stage from beginning to end.
The production elements of set, sound and lights are ideal in supporting the story. John Iacovelli’s scenic design represents the weather-beaten hull of the trawler with a raked, wooden deck. Two metal stools, some rope and a metal cable with a hook on the end complete the picture. The set provides an astonishing bit of verismo when, in rough seas, copious sheets of water wash down the deck. The precise, often moody lighting scheme of Leigh Allen is ideal. The set and lights together with the superb sound design by Julie Ferrin are a clockwork wonder in a sparse space.
Directed by Michael Arabian and produced by Mike Abramson, “The Money Fi$h” plays Saturdays and Sundays through November 22. Don’t miss this unique show; you will not be disappointed.
Note: According to John Cox, workers on a fishing trawler don’t see the fish they process, they see dollars, and “the money fish” is mackerel. More on John Cox can be found at themoneyfishplay.com.