The play chronicles the fate of a fishing family on the East End of Long Island. Walt, father of the family, is a quiet and decent man, who senses he may be the last of his line to make a living from the sea. Alice, his wife, is cut from the same cloth, giving all her strength and love of the sea to her men. Lee, their oldest son, is full of anger, realizing that the fishing life is virtually finished and that he is too old to learn a new trade. William, the youngest son, is bright, happy and stubbornly in love with the sea. Peter, a writer living in East Hampton and trying to make a living working the sea, serves as the narrator of the play as well as a friend of the family. The baymen, he tells us, have been making a good living fishing off the coast of the island for three hundred years. Over the last few decades, however, their already hard life has become tougher, as pollution, over fishing and downturns in the natural life cycles of the fish have led to ever diminishing catches. The strain on their lives is more acute with the growing population of affluent urbanites who see the East End as their weekend and summer playground. The baymen are determined to persevere despite financial troubles and loss of life, but the nail in the coffin comes as the baymen's last dependable method of catching saleable fish, a technique called haul-seining—which the Indians had taught to the baymen's ancestors—is outlawed by the NY State government. While claiming to protect the Striped Bass from over fishing, the government is really responding to pressure from the powerful sports-fisherman's lobby. The family is unable to survive this blow. Walt dies soon after, as if his heart had broken. Lee drowns in a boating accident, and, after Alice's death, William ends up mowing the lawns of the rich urbanites' weekend homes. All that remains of the family are the details that Peter captured in his journal as part of a promise to them to try and save their way of life.
Adapted from the Peter Matthiessen book of the same name. "It's not fish ye're buyin', it's men's lives." The quotation from Sir Walter Scott provides the basis for the whole play, as well as its title. While the play deals with a fishing family on Long Island, it could easily be extended to the plight of fishermen anywhere; or farmers, or ranchers, or anyone else whose way of life is being lost in our ever-changing world. "The knock-out punch live theater can deliver—to jolt us into a heightened awareness of some facet of the human condition—is abundantly in evidence in MEN'S LIVES." —EastEnder. "We are somehow galvanized by this work, by its poetic language and its immediacy. We feel we are witnessing crucial events, and we are moved and newly inspired." —East Hampton Star. "…an evening of absorbing, touching and thrilling theater." —Southampton Press.