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Steven Barkhimer's 'Windowmen' Is A Very Tasty Fish Stew

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BOSTON — If you’re like me, you often find yourself shouting at the television while watching the situational dramas and comedies in the evenings, clapping gleefully when the characters succeed or warning them of impending danger. If you’re like me, you’ll have a hard time stifling that impulse while enjoying the latest offering at Boston Playwrights' Theatre, “Windowmen,” by local playwright-actor Steven Barkhimer.

Kenny, 16 months out of school with a philosophy degree and struggling to make ends meet in New York City, starts a job in the cashier’s office of the historic Fulton Fish Market. Like the those in the stock market, only with decidedly more olfactory character, the men counting the money must work fast to keep up with the salesmen on the floor, such as Lester, played by Daniel Berger-Jones, and those who are buying—guys like Rocco, a loud, flashy, fast-talking immigrant who is always trying to pull one over on the guys. (Nael Nacer is excellent as Rocco.)

A relative newcomer to the Boston theater scene, Brandon Whitehead is superbly cast as Kenny’s coworker Vic. I couldn’t imagine anyone else looking, sounding and acting more like this character. Unflappable at the window, greeting each customer by name and a “bada-bing,” the tough-talking Vic charms us by taking young Kenny under his wing and opening up about his own issues at home in Brooklyn.

Alex Pollock (foreground), Nael Nercer and Will Lyman in "Windowmen." (Courtesy, Boston Playwright's Theatre)
Alex Pollock (foreground), Nael Nercer and Will Lyman in "Windowmen." (Courtesy, Boston Playwright's Theatre)

But it is the imposing force of Al, the market’s owner, that takes the cake. No matter how intimidating your own first boss may have been, he is no match for Will Lyman with a fish hook. Tasked with running the family business, Al manages the market with an iron fist. Yet even Al surprises us with a caring attitude for Kenny, and as well as a surprise, hidden agenda that shows his true nature.

The fish market is the place where Kenny learns what it means to be assertive and on his own, how to say what he wants, what he thinks, and who he is. Alex Pollock brings this character through a full transition: We watch him come into his own in a scene where he runs the window alone. For a moment, I was sure he would crumble, that there was no way one person could handle it all … but then you watch him grow up in an instant. It’s as if a light switch goes on and he’s no longer “Young Kenny”— I had a hard time keeping myself from cheering.

Kenny is not the only one in a state of transition. Inventory and sales have not been matching up for several weeks, and we learn that there are several employees with their hands in the cookie jar. It is also the 80s, and the way of doing business is changing with the introduction of computers into retail businesses. As Al continually reminds Vic, once they modernize their operation with a computer, no more “business as usual.” It’s hard to remember that the introduction of technology meant that someone might lose a job.

Brett Marks’s fast-paced direction draws out the sharpness and humor in Barkhimer’s dialogue: These are working men who growl and shout, but they are also warm and vulnerable. Set, lights and costume designs are raw and efficient, harkening to a place now gone, and providing the cast the tools to tell the story.

David Wilson’s sound design is excellent, with the busy salesfloor represented by recordings of calls coming through an old telecom system on the wall. Each of the numerous calls is distinct, but distorted in that old sound system way. With dozens of calls per scene, stage manager Arkansas Light had her hands full with each cue, and she handled each scene expertly.

Barkhimer, long one of the city’s more engaging actors, shows — with a lot of help from talented friends in this production — that he’s also a force to be reckoned with as a writer.

Robin Allen LaPlante is a local arts administrator who is skilled in the mystical arts of social media, ballet, and arts marketing. When not writing, she is baking delicious goodies, camping with her family, or playing with the crazy theater-makers at New Exhibition Room.

This program aired on November 7, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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