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THEATER BEAT

'Lives' Chronicles a Family's Struggles

August 09, 1996|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY

Joe Pintauro's elegiac drama "Men's Lives" at Theatre Geo is a moving chronicle of hardscrabble Long Island fishing folk. The sprawling history covering about 300 years, from Pilgrim times to the present, is inspired by the final chapters of Peter Matthiessen's book of the same name.

Fact-based but fictionalized, the play grippingly portrays the uneven struggles of one family caught in the net of a powerful sports fishing lobby intent upon outlawing the family's ancestral livelihood.

A shocking expose of environmentalism run amok, "Lives" shows how even the most altruistic movements can be subverted by the hypocrisy and greed of special interests.

James Moody's lighting and Victoria Profitt's set provide a foreboding, folklorically austere backdrop for Geo Hartley's staging, a keenly realized portrait of a vanishing way of life. However, some initially stiff performances and a few unimaginative "death at sea" sequences prevent Hartley's otherwise solid direction from being definitive. Walt, the craggy head of this beleaguered family, is superbly underplayed by Brian Frank Carter. Sharon Ernster's no-frills portrayal of Walt's wife, Alice, the indomitable family matriarch eventually crushed by a conscienceless bureaucracy, is radiant in its simplicity.

* "Men's Lives," Theatre Geo, 1229 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Aug. 17. $15. (213) 466-1767. Running time: 2 hours.

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