A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

Stories about the sea from Moby Dick to The Sea Wolf to The Old Man and the Sea speak not only of adventure but of discovery… as much or more about one’s self than anything else. And so it is with The Money Fish, John Cox’s exhilarating one-man show about his experiences on a fishing trawler in the Bering Sea, onstage at the Hudson Theatres in Hollywood through Dec. 20.

Cox is still a young man, but he has obviously packed a lot into his life. Now a longshoreman at the Port of Long Beach, he was formerly an Army Ranger. Upon his military discharge, he was seeking his next life chapter when one evening, by chance, he met a young woman who told him that her brother was a commercial fisherman in Alaska and that he made a lot of money. Cox traveled to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, and signed on with a trawler as a rookie. This is the beginning of the story he tells us, from his greenhorn days through his promotion to deck boss, his consideration of a captaincy and eventual disillusion.

The play, directed by Michael Arabian, opens with Cox lazily lobbing unseen fish from a conveyor belt into a bucket. He gives us just a bit of background before veering into other characterizations — from snarling deck boss to disdainful captain to goofy fellow deckhands. We don’t know exactly what it is that motivates these people to make their life on the sea, but they are presented as salty, tough, taciturn men who are not prone to observe the niceties of life.

Scenic Designer John Iacovelli has conjured a set consisting of a battered metal hull that curves around a planked floor at the back of the stage. With two stools, a pulley and a few items of outerwear, the accessories are few, but with effective lighting, some stage smoke and a couple of actual water dumps that come from the ceiling, the scene is properly atmospheric.

Cox goes back and forth from one character to another building the narrative and letting us see that this is not a world of microaggressions, but of macroaggressions. With risk and danger ever-present, any boneheaded move or otherwise lackluster performance is admonished by superiors in no uncertain terms. But through a combination of luck and mental toughness, Cox climbs the hierarchy of the trawler to come within sight of the top job.

In this harsh, unrelenting world of men, there eventually comes a bright spot in the person of a female marine biologist who tells John that he is a creative person and he would do well to explore options in that arena. After the death of a friend who was hit in the head by a pulley, Cox comes to a decision that will spell an end to his seafaring life.

Cox didn’t immediately decide to write about his experiences, but allowed the story to ripen within him as he went back to college and took some acting classes. It ultimately took him five years to write and polish the story that we see. He has nary a moment of hesitation or divertissement, but drives the story forward with the confidence of one who lived it. It is this authenticity that makes The Money Fish a worthwhile theatrical treat.

—David Maurer, Culture Spot LA

“The Money Fish” continues through Dec. 20 at the Hudson Theatres, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., LA 90038. For information and to purchase tickets, call (323) 960-7780 or visit www.themoneyfishplay.com.