The Fishermen of Beaudrais

By Kathleen Rowlands and Joseph Rinaldi
Adapted from a screenplay by Ring Lardner Jr. & Dalton Trumbo
Directed by Keith Oncale
Firedrake Productions
Bank St. Theatre
155 Bank Street (between West and Washington Streets; 212/868-4444;
Equity showcase (closes July 20)
Review by Charles Battersby

The Fishermen of Beaudrais is set in France during World War II and revolves around a drunkard who stumbles into the intrigues of the French resistance and becomes a reluctant hero. The story sounds like a good setup for a Danny Kaye comedy, but Fishermen... is all drama, with a dash of on top.

When Germany invades France, Louis (Matt Conley), a vagrant, wanders into the village of Beaudrais, which is soon occupied by those no-good Nazis. Because the Nazis have forbidden Frenchmen to gather in groups of more than three, the local resistance meets on the pier and pretends to be fishermen in order to plot their attacks on the troops occupying the town. The resistance, headed by Bernard (Richard Simon) recruits Louis, not because he can shoot, fight, or drive a tank, but because he's old. The resistance needs all its young men to stay alive and Louis is deemed the perfect piece of cannon fodder. A superfluous subplot with a pair of young lovers (Bernard and his squeeze Emelie, played by Jennifer Lindsey) creeps into the story, but the true story is that of Louis.

The script poses quite a few moral questions, particularly what makes a hero and whether or not a hero should be expected to act like one all the time. The issue of whether or not it's right to use terrorist-style tactics is never addressed, though. The Nazis themselves are written with just a touch of humanity, including a couple of comic moments and one short, touching scene where a German Soldier shoots an innocent French child. Despite the tad of added, the Germans are still depicted as so thoroughly nasty that one can't doubt the heroics of the Nazi-killin' protagonists.

Fishermen... was adapted from a screenplay by Ring Lardner Jr and Dalton Trumbo (and never produced, since the two were blacklisted after appearing before HUAC and becoming part of the "Hollywood Ten"). Even though the screenplay was adapted to stage format by Kathleen Rowlands and Joseph Rinaldi (who also plays one of the Nazis), the project's film origins are still present in the stage adaptation. There are 26 scenes, around 16 different locations and, together with the cast of seventeen, the play still felt like a movie on a stage.

Director Keith Oncale was shackled by this movie-esque format and made well-intended but unsuccessful attempts to create the theatrical equivalent of film techniques, like the split screen shot (which relied on actors lip-synching to their own recorded voices on stage). When not trying to emulate screen effects, Oncale's work was excellent, though.

The action occurred all over the small town, both indoors and out. Kim Liptrap designed a versatile set, and a highly efficient set change crew transformed the stage into the many locations. Period costumes (Gregory Tippit) and authentically Nazi-ish uniforms helped complete the illusion of being in the '40s, too. A Herculean effort on Tippit's behalf, since there were 19 characters.

(Also featuring Dante Giammarco, Nolan Carley, Joe Primavera, Frank Perich, Vince Phillip, Stephen Aloi, Matt Hussong, Sherry Nehmer, Martin Epstein, Jennifer Chudy, Spencer Jackson, Debra Rosenstock, and Kaitlin Cullen-Verhauz.)

 Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 1
Sets: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2003 Charles Battersby