Jack Neary February, 2008
One day, the bullying stopped.
And it took a catastrophe of epic proportions to remind me why.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was in my home office, about to check my email and log on to the electronic news. The phone rang. A friend called to tell me to turn on my television, that a small plane had flown into one of the World Trade Center buildings in Manhattan. News, to be sure, though it didn't seem to be the kind of news one would drop everything to check out. But my friend was not the overreacting type, so I went into the living room and clicked on the Panasonic. I'm sure I went right to CNN, which was the network of immediacy back then. Nowadays, virtually every television network is immediate, shoving each other's airwaves out of the way to get the hot picture or sound byte. But the network of choice during national crises in '01 was CNN, so that's where I went.
And that's where it was. The fiery tower jutting up into the impeccably blue late summer morning sky. My friend's report didn't seem accurate. Or sufficient. A small plane did this? Not likely. Both of the principal structures at the WTC were imposing buildings. And the hole that appeared to have been blown into the side of one of those iconic edifices was a hole that probably was not made by a small plane. I watched with tense fascination as the ugly, world-shattering story unfolded, point-by-point, update-by-update, talking head-by talking head. The buildings only represented the real horror we all felt, the horror we couldn't know, the horror confronted by the people inside those buildings. There'd be no more work in the home office that day, certainly. It was one of those times when the often brain-numbingly unpredictable life of the freelance writer/theater director allowed me to shift gears midstream and just stare at the world event spinning out of control on the television.
What was not spinning out of control on the television, however, was the persistent crawl at the bottom of the CNN screen, rigidly and unsparingly updating me second to second on the various details of the morning's disaster.
About three hours after I began watching, as I sat leaning forward in my living room chair drinking in all the information, a stunning piece of news on the CNN crawl brought me unexpectedly back to high school. To Keith Academy, an all-boys Xaverian Brothers institution in Lowell, Massachusetts.
At Keith, I was one of those kids, as a freshman at least, who was imposed upon. Maybe "stepped on" is a more accurate characterization of my daily routine. I was overweight, shy and dynamically challenged. The agenda for each school day employed by the most cloddish among my classmates was written boldly on my face, flashing in my eyes, perhaps even emblazoned on my forehead:
"This kid is a pushover. Bullies, start your engines!"
There was nothing terribly original about the bullies of Keith Academy. Their method was standard operating procedure. Exactly what you'd expect from hulking, insecure fifteen-year olds more full of themselves than they were of compassion. They were walking clichés, heisting lunch money from my locker, shoving me out of the cafeteria line, creating uncomplimentary nicknames to holler at me down the hallway. Future literary managers scribbled "Kick me" on PostIts and slapped them on my unsuspecting suit-jacketed back. My bullies were not clever, but they were vigilant. And I wouldn't fight back. I wouldn't report them to Brother Patrician, the burly, no-nonsense principal. Maybe I thought he'd just tell me to take it like a man, I don't know. But I would not react visibly at all. I was such an easy mark for them, I think they used me for practice. A warm up act before taking on the kids who might retaliate. For the first few months of my freshman year at Keith Academy, the bully onslaught was unrelenting.
And all I could think of when I saw what I saw on the crawl on CNN about three hours into 9/11 were those bullies and why they stopped bullying me.
The day progressed, the televised drama intensified. The ultimate reality show, years ahead of its time. The first building collapsed. Then the second. The mountain range of smoke and cinder and flying rubble stretched from the Battery to the Bronx. I had been there, in that embattled city, only a day and a half earlier, sitting in the right field stands at Yankee Stadium, watching the Red Sox lose, as they usually did back in those pre-2004 Septembers. I had parked my Sentra in Manhattan, right there as I saw it on the TV screen, where the mammoth tuft of smoke now enveloped the streets. A day and a half ago, I was there, and now the city was....what? Exploding? Imploding? Under attack? Nobody knew for sure. Speculation about terrorism stopped being speculation when the second airliner plowed into the second tower. Inconceivable. But actually happening, right there, on CNN.
He was just a kid. Back at Keith. Taller than some, but not a towering figure. In fact, he walked with a kind of loping slouch, his mop of blond hair seemed to shove his head and neck down into his torso, emphasizing his powerful shoulders. Not small. Not large. But not put upon, that's for sure. The bullies took one look at him and said, "Nah, let's go after the short fat kid who sits in front of him."
That would be me.
His last name fell immediately after mine in the alphabet, so in homeroom he sat directly behind me in Brother Theodore's Religion class. "Teddy" was great, a sports lunatic who allowed us to watch the Red Sox in the '67 World Series during class time, back when they actually played weekday games in the Fall Classic. Brother Theodore set us up alphabetically, thus contributing to my eventual escape from the bullies, and, in a very odd way, to this article.
It wasn't an instant friendship, the one that developed between me and the kid farmer who sat behind me. He was, in fact, a farmer, from Dracut, Massachusetts, a town just outside my hometown of Lowell. Later, after we'd become friends, he invited me and another classmate to visit him on his small farm just outside of Lowell. He neglected to tell us it was spreading season, when all the manure that...accumulated...in the barn over the long winter was excised from its bovine cache and tossed from the gratingly roaring John Deere every which way over field and meadow on the farm. It made for a memorable olfactory sensation. To my friend and his family, it was business as usual. To me and the other kid who came along with me for the visit, it was an eye-wateringly pungent assault on our nostrils. When I remember my day on my friend's farm, I remember the first time I walked into that barn. It was the only time I walked into that barn. I made certain of that. And I walked out really fast.
In any case, my farmer friend and I were both the reticent, shy type, so, despite our classroom proximity, ours was not an instant camaraderie.
It took the bullies to make that happen.
I sat there in front of my television staring in disbelief at the crawl, even though the information had moved on and the breathtaking moment I experienced seconds earlier was instant history. They had run a picture of him, and he looked just as he did in high school. Fuller face, maybe, but not much else was different. The hair looked the same. Just as blond, maybe not quite as floppy. It looked like a professional photo, one that his airline must have taken for his identification card. Smile broad, but not overly so. Eyes calm, calming, confident. He looked like a contented man.
The way I'd want my pilot to look if I were taking a commercial flight out of Boston to L.A.
At school, it wasn't any specific incident that triggered our friendship and the bullies' abandonment of Project Fat Kid. He just started sitting with me at lunchtime. I'd been the chunky kid who sat alone, the solitude inviting ridicule and abuse. He sat alone, too, usually, but in a different kind of non-threatened way. One day, he just sat down next to me and we ate our lunch together, chatted a bit, and started hanging out at lunch every day. Once that happened, because he was who he was, the bullying stopped. Maybe he was bigger than I remember him, and they were afraid. I don't know. It just stopped. We became school friends. And that was it.
When we graduated, we went to separate colleges, and did not stay in touch. After school, he remained in Dracut, just a few miles from my house, but...our relationship simply did not extend beyond Keith Academy. He went his way. I went mine. He ran the family farm. I went into theater. Life happened.
And then, the crawl.
I learned more about him after 9/11, of course. The world did. We discovered that he had inherited his family's farm and turned it into a very successful business in Dracut. We also found out that he had joined the Air Force after college and had become a pilot. He somehow managed to combine two careers--flying commercial jets and running a farm--into what everybody described as an exemplary family life. On September 11, 2001, he started his day the way he always did when he had a cross-continental flight--he'd get up at dawn, have breakfast, and hop in his car to drive to Logan. On the way, he'd honk his horn as he drove past his uncle's house. He was a family man.
I think about sitting there, in the Keith Academy gymnasium, an aging leather-and-sweat-smelling space that was used from everything from lunch to assemblies to basketball games to football pep rallies. I think about my friend, and I can't remember what we talked about at lunch. I have a brain like a sieve. I wish I could remember. I wish a lot of things. I wish I had kept in touch. I wish I had been part of his life, because it became clear that the people who knew him loved him. I wish it had occurred to me before 9/11 to let him know how important he'd been to me when I was fourteen, trying to survive in a difficult environment, dealing with idiot schoolboys and also, incidentally, with my father's death. But when you're a kid, you don't think about the effect another kid has on you. Only time provides that enlightenment. And, if you're lucky, you get the opportunity to say thanks.
His name was John Ogonowski, and Brother Theodore, CFX seated him behind me in Religion class, homeroom, at Keith Academy in 1964, because that's the way the alphabet dictated it should be. His name was John Ogonowski, and he was the pilot of American Airlines Flight Eleven out of Logan Airport in Boston, September 11, 2001.
I couldn't get anywhere near his funeral at St. Frances' Church because by that time he belonged to the world and the world press covered the funeral. When the world press covers a funeral in Dracut, Massachusetts, there is no parking. So I watched on television. Probably on CNN.
I wrote a letter to the local newspaper, and the local newspaper printed it. In it, I thanked John for being such a nice kid in high school. Years too late. But I imagine his family read it. His wife. His kids. So they'd know. I hope so, anyway.
And I'm thinking that maybe my friendship with him, way back then, was something of a thank you in and of itself. John seemed to be the kind of kid who didn't need to be thanked out loud, the kind of man who knew when he was doing a good thing, but never making a major deal out of it. I think he knew about my bullies, and I think it made him happy that they backed off. A virtual thank you.
In the end, he became a major deal. World-renowned. For doing his job at the center of what turned out to be a life-altering event for all of us.
But by then, John Ogonowski had long since made his mark on his friends and family in Dracut.
Just as he had made his mark on me, when he took my out of order high school existence and provided it with some semblance of normality.
Just by sitting down with me for lunch.
Peterborough Players’ production is part thriller — and BIG part comedy
By NICOLE S. COLSON Sentinel Staff | Posted: Thursday, June 21, 2012 12:15 pm
Adark and stormy New Year’s Eve. A knock on a lonely widow’s door. She knows him, but he doesn’t know her. She’s called him there for a favor on the most significant night of her life.
So begins Jack Neary’s “Auld Lang Syne,” part mystery, part drama and big part comedy, the first production of the 2012 season at Peterborough Players. The play opened Wednesday night to a half-full theater. Adding to the excitement was that it was a world premiere, and the production’s Boston playwright was sitting in the audience.
In the play, Mary Antonelli is the old acquaintance who was forgotten, a former schoolmate of Joe LaCedra. But on this night, she doesn’t call him to her home to reminisce. She has a mission, one she’s willing to pay him her life savings for.
And she believes Joe, an aging gangster at the bottom of his chain of command, would be the perfect man for the job.
We have no idea why this gruff, foul-mouthed man is standing in her living room with snow melting off his winter coat and boots onto the carpet. The suspense builds while waiting for Mary to tell her secret.
Joe LaCedra is played by Los Angeles-based Gordon Clapp, best known for his Emmy Award-winning role as detective Greg Medavoy on television’s “NYPD Blue.” Mary Antonelli is played by Kathy Manfre.
It’s a tough thing for two actors to carry an entire play — a thriller, at that — but the rapport between these two is riveting. Their banter, complete with flawless and familiar South Boston accents, is reminiscent of “All in the Family’s” Archie and Edith Bunker — but with even stronger language. At one point, Joe even calls Mary “Edith.” He’s the loud, opinionated one and she’s the kindhearted “dizzy broad,” and they develop the same kind of love/hate relationship.
It is a story of two vulnerable people brought together under very strange circumstances who form an unlikely bond based on shared experience who, in the process, teach each other how to live. More cannot be revealed, because the story’s strength lies in its surprises.
But what can be revealed is although Joe and Mary’s interactions are entertaining, the play deals with many serious themes — life and death, heaven and hell — but in such a way that you can’t help but sit back and enjoy the ride — until the ball drops in Times Square.
u “Auld Lang Syne” continues through Sunday, July 1, at Peterborough Players, 55 Hadley Road in Peterborough, with performances at 8 p.m., except Tuesday, June 26, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, June 24, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, July 1, at 4 p.m. Tickets are priced from $37 to $39, and can be ordered by calling 924-7585, or online at Peterboroughplayers.org.
New Century Theatre, Northampton, MA
Through July 21, 2012
by Dave Chivers
With "Auld Lang Syne,” New Century Theatre co-founder Jack Neary has written a witty, engaging, thoughtful play that provides for a delightful evening of theatre.
The play receives a workmanlike performance from its two actors, Anne Scurria as the solidly Catholic, middle class Mary and Barry Press as Joe LeCedra a two-bit mobster with hopes of becoming something more. Before being brought together on New Years' Eve for a purpose that is slowly revealed, their only previous connection in life had been as elementary schoolmates some fifty years before.
The play begins with a rat-a-tat opening that seems right out of the best of Abbott and Costello, with silly wordplay and misunderstood double meanings. But under Neary's sure writing this eventually evolves into something more - an unexpected, but not out of place, exploration of questions such as the relative merits of Heaven and Hell, the existence of God, and what makes life worth living - or not.
Throughout most of the first Act the two actors provide a finely tuned madcap performance that is engaging and fun. Barry Press is especially convincing as Joe, a guy who keeps messing up his life, but keeps trying to make better despite himself.
Near the end of the First Act, the pace begins to lag a bit. As the Second Act opens, the play takes on a darker, more reflective tone. The script remains strong, but the acting to pull off such mood change in more extended monologues falls a bit flat. Attempts to recapture the energy of the first act didn't quite come together in this opening performance, and while the play ends with a satisfying, thoughtful conclusion, it lacks a bit of vitality that it might well find as the run goes on.
The set and staging is well done, with the effects of off-stage comings and goings of cars and trucks (crucial to the plot) very convincing.
This is only the second staging "Auld Lang Syne" but given the strength of the writing, it should be a play that finds itself produced regularly in the future.
The last time I had seen her was going to be, I thought, the last time I would see her. She was eighty-six, with a heart condition, prone to fainting spells, but still able to get up and around. Still, since I lived four hundred miles away and was not in love with flying, I truly believed her feeble wave to me as she stood in the front door of the convent on that day three years ago constituted our final farewell. It felt good to know that senility had not settled in with her, as it tended to do in my family. It felt good to know that she still recognized me as she sent me back to Lowell on that heavy, gray western New York day. I would not see her again. I was certain of that.
I had forgotten, however, that I was not calling the shots on this matter. I had forgotten that she was The Boss.
Just as she was when she closed the candy store.
It was the talk of the school, the talk of the neighborhood, the talk of the parish. It didn’t quite make it into the Lowell Sun, but it was certainly newsworthy to anyone who had spent any time as a student at the Sacred Heart School in the 1950’s.
Sister Ann Teresa closed the candy store.
She probably attributed her action publicly to some early-sixties Surgeon General’s report declaiming the ill effects of the pre-adolescent’s over-consumption of Chunkies, Snickers and Reisman’s Pretzel Sticks. Personally, I think it had more to do with discipline, or, more pertinently, the lack thereof. Her reason for shutting down the flimsily constructed lean-to sweet shop abutting the school office probably had something to do with how digesting all those candy bars and potato chips contributed to a lack of discipline among the student ranks. Discipline was her thing. Not the kind of knuckle-rapping, ruler-thwacking discipline harped upon by lame stand-up comics unable to deal with their Catholic upbringing. No. Psychological discipline. Discipline that stuck to you the way Skippy peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth after a fast lunch on a hot day. Discipline that really…took. She craved discipline. That’s why they made her Superior of the convent. That’s why they made her Principal of the grammar school. That’s why they made her The Boss. From 1960 through 1966, she was…The Boss.
She was also my aunt.
I’ve often considered the drive from Lowell, Massachusetts to Buffalo, New York a kind of extended one-street journey. Take a right onto the Mass. Pike, go straight for eight hours and you hit Buffalo.
Buffalo is where the nuns are.
At least, that’s where they all seemed to come from when I was a kid. The Sisters of St. Mary of Namur from the Annunciation Convent on Lafayette Street in Buffalo. They all dressed the same (of course) and they all talked the same, with those painfully hard Buffalo “r’s” to contrast with our blissfully soft eastern Massachusetts “ahs.” Sister Annette. Sister Stephen Marie. Sister Suzanne. Sister Saint Patrick. They all lived in the “cahnvent” and many of them were stationed in “Lahkport” after their initiation at Annunciation. And they all wore that long set of wooden rosary beads dangling and jangling on their hips like a gunslinger’s holster. If there was one thing the nuns could not do, at least at the Sacred Heart School when I was a kid, it was sneak up on you.
I had learned recently that Sister Ann Teresa had become “difficult” at the convent. This didn’t surprise me. She had been moved permanently from the residence to the infirmary, and had reached the stage where she needed constant care. She would often balk at getting up in the morning, she would refuse to eat, she would speak harshly to her nurses, and she would on occasion—God help us—rear back and aim a right hook at an aide whose only transgression was to try to get her to wake up or sit up or eat.
So I felt it was time to return to Buffalo to put a family face in front of her. To see if that would lighten her mood. Things had changed within my family. Relatives had moved. Relationships had…altered. My mother, ten years younger than Sister Ann Teresa, had died. It was time to see the Boss again.
Forty-four years after she closed the candy store.
It was a mixed blessing for me to be a student at the Sacred Heart School during the years when Sister Ann Teresa was the principal. Fortunately, I was not the type of kid to get into trouble. But even contemplating getting into trouble was traumatic knowing the example I was expected to set as kin to The Boss. Needless to say, I wasn’t terribly popular with the more delinquent element among my classmates.
I was an altar boy. Naturally. And in those days, all the masses were served by two altar boys. (These days, if you can’t get an altar girl, you get an elderly altar gentleman.) And, believe it or not, people used to die back then, and funeral masses would be said for these people. And sometimes, believe it or not, these people died during the week. Which meant that altar boys were needed—during school hours.
There was a stretch of time during which, for some reason, Father Scanlon assigned me to a slew of funerals. Maybe four over the course of two weeks. So, on that fourth day, I confidently stood up in Sister Mary Pius’ math class, told her I had to serve a funeral, and walked cheerfully out of the room. I served the mass, and went back to school. As I walked through the corridor, Sister Mary Pius, about four-foot nine and checking in at eighty-five pounds, tops, approached me and handed me a note.
“Give this to Sister Superior,” she said, and walked away. There was no envelope, so I opened the note as I walked to the office. It read, “Dear Sister Ann Teresa, John has missed three math classes in two weeks because of funerals.” I knew this was serious business because everybody in the world called me “Jack” except when business was serious. I went into the office and gave the note to my aunt. She read it, and took her ball point pen from the crease of her habit. On the bottom of the note, she scribbled, “Sister Mary Pius, we must bury the dead.”
So I did get away with a few things.
Then there was the Big Fight I had with the Joe Killeen.
This is really kind of a pathetic story because I was in school with this guy for, like, eight years and even as I went to battle with him, he didn’t know who I was. I had “started it,” the fight, which is wild, but true. Joe Killeen was known far and wide as the biggest troublemaker in the school, possibly in the school’s 100-year history, the most feared bully at Sacred Heart, and just an out and out rotten human child. He had “stayed back” at least twice, so he was older than the rest of us. Arrogant beyond expectation or belief. I despise arrogance, and I just couldn’t stand the guy. So when I saw him doing something arrogant to sweet little Martha Cannavan in the school yard I—I don’t know—I made a gesture of disgust, or said something that somehow indicated to him that I thought he was a jerk. I was hoping he didn’t notice. But he did. And this is what he said:
“I’m gonna get you tomorrow, Bassett!”
Which is what you’d expect him to say, given my brash gesture.
Except that my name isn’t Bassett.
He thought I was somebody else. There was a Bassett in my class, but it wasn’t me. So here I was about to get pummeled by the School Bully and he wouldn’t even know who it was he was about to pummel. Naturally, I didn’t tell him. I preferred an anonymous pummeling.
So I showed up in the school yard the next day (why I didn’t feign some kind of kidsickness that morning is beyond me) and this guy’s henchman was at the school gate, waiting for me. As I walked into the yard, the henchman beckoned Killeen, and the confrontation was on.
One of the things I ended up doing later in life was working as an actor. This latent talent came in handy that morning. Every time Joe lifted his fist to slam me in the face, I averted my eyes and said, “Nun coming,” whether there was one coming or not. This worked about three times. Then the bell rang and I was given a reprieve.
“After school,” he said. “You better be here.”
“Oh, I’ll be here,” I said.
I couldn’t tell my mother or father. Not because they wouldn’t have helped me figure something out. I just didn’t want them to know I had involved myself in something so incredibly stupid. I couldn’t tell Sister Ann Teresa, because then it would absolutely look like I was pulling school yard rank with my familial connection and then Joanne Dunleavy and Mary Ann Keith and Mary Jo Perigny—especially Mary Jo Perigny—would know I was a coward and wouldn’t give me the time of day. Not that they gave me the time of day anyway. Still, it was a concern.
But I had to tell somebody.
So I told my grandmother.
Who happened to be The Boss’s mother.
She lived across the street from the Sacred Heart, so I went to her house immediately after school. I didn’t stay in the room with her when she made the phone call to the convent. I didn’t want to know what was happening. I wanted to go back to the schoolyard as innocent as I could possibly be of sabotaging the Big Fight. I’m not sure I’d be as courageous now as I was on that day. I didn’t know whether I was going to be saved or slaughtered. But I did show up. I had hedged my bet, to be sure, by telling Nana. But I did show up.
So did Joe. God, he was a mean-looking kid. Kind of like “Butch” from the old Little Rascal movies except not as smart. There he was, after school in the schoolyard, his Irish red fists ready to turn my Irish red face into hamburger. And there I was, walking right over to him as if tomorrow was a day I didn’t mind never seeing. No eye-averting actor tricks this time. It was just me and Joe. And I was ready to take what he was going to give me. I drew to a halt in front of him, said nothing, and waited for Armageddon.
“What are you two doing back here?”
It was the family dialect laced with the Buffalo twang, so I knew who it was. It was The Boss.
“You know you’re not supposed to be back here when school is out. Let’s go!”
She led us both to the school office, and the charge leveled was trespassing. She couched the incident in terms that made it very clear to Joe that she had arrived on the scene coincidentally. My big break was that he was too stupid to believe otherwise. We received a stern, hard “r”-laden lecture, and she asked him to leave. When he was far enough away from the building to do me no harm, she let me go home. She said nothing about my grandmother’s phone call.
Lafayette Street is a well-kept major artery in the essentially low-rent part of Buffalo. As I pulled up to the convent in my ’98 Sentra (133,000 miles and still chugging), at about eleven a.m., the kids at the kindergarten next door cavorted merrily (can you cavort any other way?) at recess. I remembered the same kind of cavorting going on when I last visited.
I rang the convent doorbell twice before a nun greeted me. She reminded me that Sister Ann Teresa had been moved permanently to the new infirmary across the courtyard. There was another doorbell outside the infirmary entrance, but I figured I’d save some ancient sister a trip to the door and just walked inside. I recognized the area immediately as a kind of intensive care unit, with a nurses’ station surrounded by about eight hospital-type rooms. The woman who oversaw the nurses’ station could have been a nurse, but I knew she was a nun. Even though they now pretty much wear civvies all the time, I can spot a nun a mile away. Always could. Nun-dar. I told this woman that I was Sister Ann Teresa’s nephew.
And she immediately started apologizing.
“Oh, I’m sorry…you know…we try to get her up every day…and we try to keep her…”
“That’s fine, Sister…”
“Keep her, you know…clean and…”
“…as possible, but she…you know…”
“I know,” I said in my most soothing voice. “I know. I’d just like to see her.”
As I spoke, I noticed that a nurse and a couple of the aides milling around the station dispersed quickly to a room directly across the hall. The nun at the desk, who turned out to be the manager of the infirmary, took me into her office to update Sister Ann Teresa’s family file. I had all her contact information shifted from my mother and my other elderly aunt to me, so that I’d be the guy who’d get the call in the middle of the night when…well…whatever…
Ten minutes later, I was ushered into her room. I had no idea what to expect. The nurse and two aides had somehow managed to sit my aunt up in bed, but her head flopped off to the side, her eyes closed. Having been with my mother through a long nursing home stint over the past few years, I could easily recognize that senility and medication had taken their toll on Sister Ann Teresa. This time, she would not know me. Sadly, I stepped closer to the bed.
“Go ahead,” said one of the younger aides. “Talk to her. She’s awake.”
Well, she clearly wasn’t awake. Or, at least, she wasn’t awake in the most viable sense of that word. But I stuck my head in close to her, in front of her face, and I said, “Hey!”
Her head stayed in the flopped-over position, but her eyes opened. And she smiled. Much as she had when she waved goodbye to me from the convent doorway three years earlier. My impression from the reaction of the others in the room was that this is something that did not happen often anymore. But she definitely smiled.
“Jackie…” she said.
I’m fifty-three and nobody calls me “Jackie” anymore. But with that smile and from that one word I knew she was, at least for this moment, still here.
She told me I looked great and she made me kiss her three times. After a minute or so, she nodded off to sleep. The nurse, the two aides and the infirmary manager stayed in the room as I slipped away. Out of the jumble of their intense mumbling I heard, “Do you think she’ll wake for lunch?” “Was she angry when you woke her up?” “Did she say it’d be all right to get her out of bed this afternoon?” Fear was in the air. Fear of a reprisal from Sister Ann Teresa if things weren’t done exactly as they were supposed to be done.
She was still The Boss.
And I had said goodbye one, final time.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL
A street in the business district of
London. The most prominent
establishment: “Scrooge & Marley’s
Counting House.” Christmas Eve. 1843.
Approximately 2:00 p.m.
The street is teeming with people, all
in a holiday rush, greeting each other
After a moment, NEDDY, a boy of 16 or
so, races out of “Scrooge & Marley’s
Counting House” and leaps into the
crowd. Hot on his heels, out of the
establishment, comes BOB CRATCHIT, who
appears to be in a dither over Neddy’s
Neddy! Neddy, get back in here at once! You know Mr.
Scrooge won’t allow any time off in the middle of a work day!
Work day, indeed, Bob Cratchit!
Did you hear that, lads! A work day, indeed!
(the revelers laugh)
(catches up with Neddy)
Get back inside, Neddy! If he catches you out here...
It’s Christmas Eve, Bob! Ever heard of the day? Christmas
Eve! Tell ‘im, my friends! What day is it?
Christmas Eve to Mr. Scrooge is no different from any other
day! You’ve only been working for him a few weeks, Neddy!
You don’t know him as well as I do!
Well, I know him well enough to know he’s off to Grovsner
Square on business and won’t be back this afternoon or this
He told you that?
He did! And he told me to tell you we should take the rest
of the day off!
Mr. Scrooge said that?
That he did!
That’s extremely strange...
So enjoy yourself, why don’t you, Bob Cratchit! You’re
always mopin’ around with a frightened look on your mug! Be
Yes, Bob! Cheerful! You remember how to be cheerful don’t
ya? Just make yourself feel happy...
(grabs passing girl, flings her
into Cratchit’s arms)
...and then DO somethin’ about it!
(he starts them dancing; Bob
The Carolers sing and the crowd erupts
into gleeful dancing. Neddy swaths a
path through the crowd, dragging Bob
with him. He hoists Bob up on a
platform, and coaxes him to dance.
Eventually, Bob gives in and breaks
into a lively solo dance atop the
platform. The crowd watches this and
enjoys it thoroughly.
Then, breaking his way through the
crowd, SCROOGE enters, in a rage. He
tears through the people, knocking one
or two folks to the ground in his haste
and anger. He waves his walking stick
in protest and screams at the top of
his lungs, attempting to quiet the
STOP! CEASE! STOP THIS, I TELL YOU! STOP THIS IMMEDIATELY!
(he lifts himself up onto the
platform where Bob is dancing
oblivious to the interruption)
I SAY STOOOOOOOPPPPPP!!!!
The noise of the crowd ceases
instantly. Bob, lost in his joy, keeps
dancing away. Everything has stopped-the
singing, the music, the cheer. But
Bob keeps dancing and singing.
Finally, after a moment, Bob turns in
his dance, and ends up face to face
(after a beat staring Bob down)
Enjoying yourself, are you, Bob?
(frozen in panic)
Yes, sir. No, sir. Maybe, sir. Well, sir...
QUIET! Quiet, Bob Cratchit before I lose control of my good
nature! Who put you up to this?
Well, Mr. Scrooge, I can’t really say that I...
Don’t lie to me, Cratchit, you don’t have the intestinal
fortitude to participate in such an exercise in stupidity as
this without some kind of provocation! It was that new
apprentice, wasn’t it? Ned Percival! Why, I curse the day I
was talked into hiring him. Where is he?
(beat; Neddy attempts to sneak
Come, speak up, Cratchit! Where is that ridiculous boy?
Percival, put your weasly little face in front of mine this
(Neddy makes his way to the
Now! Tell me the truth! Was it you who put Cratchit up to
Please, sir, Neddy had nothing to do...
Quiet, Cratchit, I’m addressing his weasly face, not yours!
Yes, sir. I lied to him. I told Bob you’d be away for the
afternoon and that you’d told us to take the rest of the day
Well, then...I understand. I appreciate your telling me the
You do, sir?
Of course, I do. And as a display of my appreciation, I am
officially giving you the rest of the day off!
Why, thank you, sir!
And while you’re at it, take tomorrow off! And the next day!
And the next!
In fact, take the rest of your life off! Consider yourself
(Neddy, runs off; the crowd
And as for the rest of you, I advise you to remove your
sweating, frivolous carcasses from the front of my place of
business! If you remain here one second longer, I shall
summon the constabulary! Off with you now! Go! Go!!!
Grumbling, the crowd disperses.
Scrooge steps off the platform and goes
to the door of his office. Bob crawls
off the platform and begins to walk
And where do you think you’re going?
Why, Mr. Scrooge, I assumed...I was...I assumed you would...
Oh, you assumed, did you? Well, let me tell you what you can
assume from now on, Bob Cratchit.
You can assume that I expect you to stay at your post one
extra hour every day for the next six months with no increase
of salary. You can assume that I will not stand for any
further display of insubordination or malingering from you
from this day forward! And to use the word in a different
but equally viable context, you can assume the office duties
of one Mr. Neddy Percival, apprentice, no longer affiliated
with this business establishment.
Now, get to work!
(rushes to door)
Thank you, Mr. Scrooge! Thank you so very...
(assesses the situation)
Scrooge heads into his office as the
Carolers sing downstage and the
INTERIOR OF SCROOGE AND MARLEY’S
COUNTING HOUSE appears. Visible are
Cratchit’s desk, and Scrooge’s inner
office. Near Cratchit is a very tiny
coal burning stove. In Scrooge’s
office, there is a much larger stove.
6:00 p.m., later on that same Christmas
The singing fades away. Bob sits at
his desk, feverishly working. Scrooge
also scribbles in a ledger at his desk.
Bob is very cold. He looks warily
towards Scrooge’s inner office. He
steels himself, and tiptoes to the coal
bin near Scrooge’s door. He carefully
reaches in for a piece of coal.
(without looking up)
(drops coal; returns to desk)
The door to the office opens, and FRED,
Hurry now, Fink! Entwhistle!
Good afternoon, Bob! Merry Christmas to you!
(careful; checking; whispering)
And...uh...Merry Christmas to you, too, sir!
(playfully, whispering also;
nodding towards Scrooge’s
Oh! Are we pulling back the reins of holiday cheer once
I’m sorry, sir I’m a little skittish today, you see, I...
Fred casually takes a piece of coal out
of the bin and replenishes Bob’s stove.
Of course you’re skittish, it’s frightfully cold in here!
Oh, but sir, I...
Ssh! I don’t want you sick when my wife and I stop by to
visit you tomorrow. We have some gifts for your children.
Why, sir! How thoughtful of you! We’ll be there!
(looks toward Scrooge’s office;
At least, I think I’ll be there.
You’ll be there!
(whisks to Scrooge’s door)
Uncle! I’m sorry you weren’t disposed to enjoying the
Christmas Carols this afternoon!
The day I appreciate something as imbecilic as singing about
...is the day Bob Cratchit becomes a person of position!
Again, the door of the shop opens. Two
mature businessmen, FINK and
ENTWHISTLE, enter, Entwhistle holding a
ledger book. Each man is somewhat
(before Bob can respond)
He’s not in. Let’s go!
(starts to pull Fink out)
Of course, he’s in, gentlemen! I promised you he would be!
It’s late in the afternoon on a festive holiday eve! The
world is laughing, singing and dancing! Where else would
Ebenezer Scrooge be but at his work desk!
I think we should come back another time.
Oh, sometime soon. Easter.
Gentlemen! Come with me! I’m sure my uncle will be more
than happy to contribute to your cause! Please! Step right
Timidly, the two gentlemen step with
Fred into Scrooge’s inner office.
Scrooge keeps his head to his ledger
and works even more feverishly.
Uncle! We’re all here to wish you a...
Oh, yes! I’d forgotten. Bah. Humbug.
Would you mind telling me why my office is crowded with
impertinent relatives and unidentified street people!
Why, Uncle, we are here to tap the well of your generosity.
We seek to entreat you to aid the poor and sick and
distressed this festive season.
Is the establishment still called “Scrooge & Marley’s” sir?
Why wouldn’t it be?
Well, seeing as Mr. Marley is no longer with us...
He died seven years ago, this very night, in fact. He
finished the work day, though, didn’t he Uncle!
It is called what it is called! What do you want?
Uh...as you may know, Mr. Scrooge, at this festive season of
the year, our charitable association takes it upon itself to
gather funds for the poor and destitute. This year,
Entwhistle here and I have been...chosen to call upon you.
We drew straws...
Uncle, I’m certain you’ll be happy to...
Are there no prisons?
Prisons, sir? Well, of course there are prisons...
And the Union workhouses? Still in operation?
Unfortunately, sir, they are, but...
I’m glad to hear it.
Of course, many unfortunates still fall through the cracks,
sir and we’ve taken it upon ourselves to...
(nudges Entwhistle again to
What shall we put you down for?
You wish to be anonymous?
I wish to be ignored! If merry is to be made, let it be made
without me! I help to support the establishments I’ve
mentioned. They cost enough, and those who are badly off
must go there.
Many can’t go there!
And many would rather die!
Is that so? Well, then--let them. I approve of dying. It
decreases the surplus population.
It is not my business! It was hard work and destiny, not
charity, that have shaped my life. I don’t interfere with
your business, I demand you not interfere with mine! Good
But I...I don’t...
(looks to FRED, who shakes his
(starts out, stops and sees
Entwhistle, who is frozen in
shock with the ledger book
Entwhistle. Close the book.
They leave sheepishly. Fred, who has
been standing to the side, says
nothing. He just stares at Scrooge,
who continues to scribble in his
ledger. After a moment, again without
lifting his head, Scrooge speaks.
(a slow burn)
Can I...help you?
(after a beat)
Uncle! It’s Christmas!
(dropping his pen)
If I could work my will...every idiot who goes about with
“Merry Christmas” on his lips would be boiled with his own
pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.
Why are you still here!
Well, first and foremost I was here to help the gentlemen
with their charity work. Clearly I have failed at that
mission. Beyond that, I came here to wish you a Merry
Christmas, to hear you say “Bah! Humbug,” and to invite you
again to dinner tomorrow evening.
You did, did you? And what did you think I’d say to your
“Bah, Humbug,” of course.
Of course. Well, then...you have your answer.
Uncle, please, just...
(beat; very seriously)
It was not my fault.
Good God in heaven, man, will you never forgive me for
something over which I had no control?
I told you to get out of my office!
(Fred looks at Scrooge a
moment, then heads for the
Much good Christmas has ever done for you.
(Fred stops; Cratchit stops
working and listens)
What...reason have you to be merry?
Come to dinner and you’ll see. I have a wife and two
wonderful children. I have very close friends. I have a
modest job and sufficient income. I wake up in the morning
and embrace the day. And when Christmas comes around I share
my modest happiness with men and women who consent to open
their modest hearts freely and share their modest happiness
with me. And therefore, Uncle, though it has never put a
scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that
Christmas has done me good, and will do me good. And I say
God bless it!
At this, Cratchit can’t help himself
and bursts into applause. He catches
himself immediately and goes back to
Let me hear another sound from you, Cratchit, and you’ll keep
your Christmas by losing your situation!
My door is always open, Uncle.
(face in ledger; points to his
As is mine. Use it.
(as he leaves inner office;
heads to main door)
Merry Christmas to you Bob, and to your family.
Thank you, sir.
(at door; BELLS SOUND)
Seven o’clock, Bob. I should think you’d want to begin your
(loud enough for Scrooge to
If it’s convenient, sir...
(head in ledger)
It is not! It never is!
(quietly; to FRED)
It’ll be fine, sir. Thank you, sir. Happy Christmas.
Fred leaves. Bob gathers his things,
puts on his coat and hat, and silently
heads for the door. He reaches for the
knob, tries to remain completely
silent, when Scrooge, as always with
his head in the ledger, booms:
YOU BE HERE AT LEAST AN HOUR EARLY DAY AFTER TOMORROW!
(braces himself, then moves to
entrance of Scrooge’s inner
And, sir...if you don’t mind, sir, I’d truly like to wish
Don’t...don’t you dare. If you value your salary, if you
value your position, if you value your very spleen...don’t.
Day after tomorrow, sir.
(Bob goes to door, stops,
Merry Christmas, Mr. Scrooge.
Scrooge waits a moment, then gathers
his things, and heads for the door. We
hear Carolers in the distance. He
extinguishes the lamp, opens the door,
As he does, the Carolers enter
downstage and sing while the set
changes to the exterior of Scrooge’s
house. The Carolers leave, and Scrooge
enters, heading to his door. As he
approaches the door, a woman walks
towards him. She seems to know
Scrooge, but he defiantly avoids her
gaze. After they pass each other, she
calls to him. This is BELLE, Scrooge’s
age, a beautiful older woman.
(stops, doesn’t look at her)
Keep walking. Please. We have nothing to say to each other.
How can you speak for me? Perhaps I have something to say to
(still without looking)
A moment as Belle doesn’t move.
Finally, she turns and walks away.
Scrooge waits until he’s sure she’s
gone, then he continues to his doorway.
He reaches the doorway, which features
a small gold plate at its center.
Scrooge dips into his pocket for his
key. He can’t find it. He turns away.
As he does, the gold plate becomes the
FACE OF A MAN. This is the first
manifestation of MARLEY. The face in
the door speaks, ghoulishly.
Instantly Scrooge turns to the door,
and the face disappears.
What was that? Who called my name?
(looks around, sees nothing)
Now where is that confounded key!
Again he turns away. Again the face
appears in the gold plate and speaks.
This time the voice is accompanied by
WEIRD NOISES, STRANGE UNINTELLIGIBLE
VOICES and THUNDER.
Scrooge screams in abject fear and
leaps to hide under his stoop. As soon
as he hits the ground, the face
disappears and the noise stops. He
pauses, rises cautiously, then belches.
(looks down the street)
(he finds key)
Ah! Here it is!
He unlocks the door and enters his
house. As he does, the Carolers appear
downstage as the set change is
The carol ends, and we find ourselves
in SCROOGE’S SITTING ROOM.
GLADYS, Scrooge’s housekeeper, sets a
bowl, a small loaf of bread, a small
block of cheese and utensils on a table
in front of Scrooge’s chair. Gladys is
middle-aged and sharp-tongued.
She’s been with this man for years and
nothing fazes her anymore. As she
completes the setting of the table,
Scrooge enters, now in his smoking
jacket. Gladys stands to the side as
Scrooge, without acknowledging her,
sits at the table. He looks into the
What is it?
What kind of soup?
What are those little brown things?
Beef? What kind of beef?
Bits. Of beef. Beef bits. Will that be all?
Must you be so blunt?
Yes. Will that be all?
They stare each other down for the
longest time. Finally, Gladys wins.
That will be all!
Gladys smiles and leaves. Scrooge
starts to eat his soup and bread, as he
grumbles and mumbles.
“Will that be all?” Indeed. Thinks she can sass me like
Ah...phew...And a terrible cook to boot!
I don’t know why I put up with such impertinence. Well, what
can one expect from people of her class and upbringing? What
indeed...All I can do is set a good example and behave
Scrooge gorges his food, eating very
sloppily. After a moment, we hear in
the distance something that sounds like
RATTLING CHAINS. Scrooge lifts his
head, listens a moment. The sound
ceases. Again, he eats sloppily.
Again the SOUND is heard, louder this
time. Scrooge lifts his head again,
and calls to his hallway.
Hello? Who’s there?
The sound stops again. Scrooge listens
to the silence, goes back to work. In
a moment, there is a SOUND OF CHAINS
CRASHING to a surface. Then, the
HIDEOUS MOAN of a man is heard as the
chains continue to rattle. Scrooge
spits out the food that’s in his mouth,
and leaps beside his chair, perhaps
under his table. Again, silence.
Scrooge waits. And waits. Then he
carefully begins to emerge from his
desk. Instantly, the CHAINS and
MOANING are heard again, much louder
than before. Scrooge retreats. As he
does, the LIGHTS in the room flicker
and dim. The SOUND of the chains are
joined by HEAVY FOOTSTEPS and SWIRLING
WIND and DISSONANT BELLS. The room
seems to shake. THUNDER. The MOANING
continues and increases. Scrooge
sticks his head out from under the
table and starts to wail in fright.
Then, BRIGHT SMOKE emerges from a spot
in the floor.
Rising from the smoke is a man, about
Scrooge’s age, far more withered, far
more decrepit. He is bathed in dust
and burdened with a chain, the links of
which seem to be made of cashboxes,
keys, ledgers, padlocks, deeds and
heavy purses wrought in steel.
This, of course, is the ghost of Jacob
(Scrooge only whimpers in
SCROOOOOOOOOOGE! SHOW YOURSELF, YOU SNIVELING, WHIMPERING
PIMPLE ON THE FACE OF HUMANITY!!!
(from beneath table)
Are you sure you have the right man?
WHO ARE YOU!
Ask me who I was.
Who were you, then?
In life, I was your partner, Jacob Marley!
Jacob Marley. But you can’t be.
And why not?
Because Marley is dead.
Do I look healthy to you?
Jacob! But...it’s impossible.
Believe in me, Ebenezer! Believe in me or suffer my fate!
(emerging from beneath table)
I will not! I will not believe in you! This is merely...a
slight disorder of my stomach. Badly prepared food is all it
is! I’ll never let that woman in my kitchen again.
You...you are simply an undigested bit of beef...a crumb of
SCROOGE & MARLEY
...fragment of an underdone potato...
I know. I know. I’ve heard it all before.
There’s more of gravy than of grave about you!
At this, Marley lets out a FRIGHTFUL
WAIL, horrible beyond belief. The room
shakes, the CHAINS clank, the THUNDER
roars. The LIGHTS FLICKER wildly.
Scrooge screams in terror and retreats
to underneath his table.
DO YOU BELIEVE IN ME OR DO YOU NOT!!!
(again sticks his head out)
Oh, I do! I do! But why do you trouble me?
It is my lot. In death, I am doomed to walk the Earth among
my fellow men and witness the poverty and misery I have
inflicted upon so many people for so many years. I must
envision their torture, their pain, their constant struggle.
I must envision it now because I ignored it during my life!
He emits another WAIL with ACCOMPANYING
SOUNDS which force Scrooge back under
Please! Stop doing that!
Know me, now, Ebenezer Scrooge! Know me and fear me, for I
am who you are.
(sticks head out; beat)
Well...perhaps...for one little difference.
You’re dead. I’m not!
Another WAIL. Again Scrooge hides.
I wear the chain I forged in life! I was a loathsome and
hideous individual! Only one man left on Earth surpasses me
in malevolence and greed! Only one man will walk through the
blackness of the nether world with a heavier burden than I!
Wakefield, the butcher?
Timberlake, the tailor?
Ah! Periwinkle, the banker!
(another CACOPHONY of SOUND)
(emerges from under desk)
Oh, Jacob! Oh, Jacob, please! Speak comfort to me! Jacob!
I CANNOT! It is merely my place to show you the results of a
life wasted, a life misused, a life that was not a life at
all! A life so very much like yours!
But you were always a good man of business, Jacob!
Business! Mankind was my business! The common welfare was
All right! All right! I was just trying to help!
HEAR ME! My time is nearly gone! How I may appear to you in
a shape which you can see, I cannot tell. I have spent many
an hour these seven years, invisible to you, but with you
(shivers at this thought)
You’ve been...with me? All these seven years?
Oh. How nice for you.
IT IS PART OF MY PENANCE! But tonight, I am here to warn you
that you have yet a chance to escape my fate.
Oh, Jacob! You are so kind! To spare me from further
terror. How will you save me, Jacob? Will you place your
hand on my heart and bless me? That would be good. Or will
you recite a prayer to guide me? That would be very good.
Or will you simply look gently into my eyes and wish me well
and then leave me alone? That would be very, very good.
I will send three ghosts to haunt you!
That’s not good.
You will obey their instructions to the letter!
I think...I’d rather not.
The choice is not yours, if you are to be saved. You want to
be saved, do you not?
Well, being saved is good, I’ll say that, but the haunted
EXPECT THE FIRST TONIGHT! When the bell tolls one!
How about...you get ‘em all over here now, at the same time?
You could introduce me and...
EXPECT THE SECOND TOMORROW NIGHT, at the same hour. And the
third the next night when the last stroke of twelve has
ceased to vibrate.
Do you have to get so dramatic about it?
Another CACOPHONY OF SOUND, as before.
Scrooge hides one last time. Again,
the BRIGHT SMOKE emerges from the
floor, and Marley begins to sink out of
REMEMBER WHAT HAS PASSED BETWEEN US, EBENEZER SCROOGE!
REMEMBER THE FEAR, REMEMBER THE HORROR, REMEMBER THE TERROR!
AND KNOW THAT WHAT IS ABOUT TO HAPPEN TO YOU IS EITHER GOING
TO SAVE YOU, OR LEAD YOU TO THE BLACKEST OF BLACK DEATH!
A final CACOPHONY OF SOUND as Marley’s
ghost disappears into the fireplace.
Instantly, Scrooge’s room is as it was
before Marley’s appearance, though the
quiet of the night has enveloped the
Scrooge stands, frozen. Carefully, he
approaches the spot in the floor where
the ghost appeared. He taps on the
spot with his foot, and scurries away.
Nothing happens. He steps back to the
same place, taps harder, and again runs
away. Nothing. Once more he goes
back, and jumps up and down on the
spot. Nothing. He takes a long, deep
breath. He goes over to his half-eaten
meal, lifts up the plate, and grimaces.
Bah! Bad food! That’s all it is! I consume a bit of bad
food and I belch up Marley! Bah! Bah! HUMBUG!!!
He steps over to the spot again, and
looks directly at it.
Do you hear me? HUMBUG!!!
Instantly, all the NOISES return in
cacophonous splendor for a brief,
spectacular flash. Scrooge screams and
runs out of the room. LIGHTS OUT on
the sitting room.
Downstage, the Carolers appear. As
they sing, SCROOGE’S BEDCHAMBER
At the conclusion of the song, LIGHTS
UP FULL on the bedchamber, where Gladys
prepares Scrooge’s bed, which is
surrounded by bed curtains. There is
also an elaborate, functioning
fireplace. As Gladys works, she hums a
cheery Christmas tune. Scrooge enters,
now fully dressed in bed clothing, cap
Here! What are you doing, woman?
Me name ain’t “woman.” Me name is Gladys. It’s been Gladys
these thirteen years I been your chambermaid. And in case
you haven’t been payin’ attention, what I’m doin’ is what I
been doin’ at this time of night, every night, for each one
of them thirteen years. I’m openin’ up your bed curtains so
as to make it possible for you to slide into the bed easy
like rather than climb over the top and drop yourself down.
Is that supposed to be funny?
It’s supposed to be, but as I know the physical act of
laughin’ ain’t somethin’ your various body parts are equipped
to accommodate, I set it out there more along the lines of
You’re dismissed for the evening! Off with you!
(heads for door)
Me heart is broke.
I’ve already told me family you’ve refused to give me the day
tomorrow. They gave me a holiday wish to pass along to you,
but bein’ a Christian woman, I....
I need you here! Who will prepare my food?
Such as it is...What would happen to me if I went an entire
day without eating?
I’d be willin’ to take the chance.
Gladys leaves. Scrooge goes through a
ridiculous routine, preparing for bed.
It is very precise, silly and
outrageous. When it is completed, he
rolls back the covers, and leaps into
bed. An oil lamp glows at his bedside.
He reaches for the lamp, then stops
This isn’t good. Where is my mirror?
(he find a small hand mirror on
Scrooge! You must stop! You must not think any longer! You
are thinking about Marley and about the three ghosts and you
are not allowing yourself to sleep! You must stop thinking
immediately and close your eyes, for the Marley you think you
saw tonight was nothing more than the Marley you knew in real
life--an upset stomach! Stop thinking!
Scrooge puts down the mirror and plops
his head onto the pillow. He closes
Eyes closed. Not thinking.
Eyes closed. Not thinking.
Eyes closed. Not thinking.
(beat, as his eyes bulge open)
Eyes open. Thinking.
(he grabs mirror, looks)
What did I just tell you? Stop thinking!
The BELL BEGINS TO TOLL leading up to
the stroke of the hour. Scrooge
galvanizes in his bed. He reaches to
the watch fob on his side table. He
checks the time.
The hour of one approaches!
(ding ding ding dong)
Well, then, if Marley was indeed a ghost himself...
(ding dong ding dong)
...and not some gastronomical agitation...
(ding ding ding dong)
...then the spirit he foretold should appear...
(ding dong ding dong)
when the hour is struck...
(the clock strikes one)
(Scrooge waits, silence)
Nothing! Just as I suspected! No spirit whatsoever! I was
a fool to even think...well, as I said...
(looks into mirror again)
...thinking only gets you into trouble! I shall sleep like a
Scrooge puts down the mirror, reaches
for the oil lamp and snuffs it out. He
gathers up the bed curtains and closes
them around him. He SINGS A SWEET
LULLABY to himself. Nothing moves.
Then, suddenly, one of the bed curtains
lurches forward in the air. Scrooge
sticks his head out from inside the bed
What was that?
He closes the curtain and disappears.
Silence. Then, again, another lurch
from the bed curtain. Again, Scrooge
starts and sticks his head out.
There it is again! There is unaccountable activity in my
bed. I must be able to see...! What in the...
He opens all the bed curtains and leans
over to light the lamp. He settles
back in the bed, then reaches for the
bed cover, but before he can touch it,
it lurches. More GIGGLING. The bed
cover begins jumping up and down.
Scrooge screams and scurries around the
bed in fear, avoiding the lurches.
Finally, from the bottom of the bed, a
tiny woman plops to the floor. Her
name is MATILDA. She wears what looks
like a tunic, with a sprig of flowers
in her hair. She is a ball of energy,
and leaps around the room with delight.
I’m here! I made it! I can’t believe it! They told me I’d
never make it, but I did! I did! Are you Mr. Scrooge? Yes!
You are! I can tell by your grumpy old face! How wonderful!
Are you...the spirit whose coming was foretold to me?
Yes! Isn’t that amazing! I mean, there you were
just...trying to sleep and now here I am just...popping out
of your bed and it’s just so...so...
Well...who...and what...are you?
Oh, I’ve been waiting to say this for...forever!
I am the Ghost of Christmas Past!
Past? But how could you....how much past could you have?
How old are you?
Oh, not my past. Your past. I have no past. Except the
past minute or so. That was in my past. My past just
Impertinent! Enough! Why are you here?
Not so fast! I’m new at this! I want to savor the moment!
Yes. Savor. That means I want to take some time to...
I know what savor means you...you...
Ghost of Christmas Past!
What do you want with me?
I will bring you to revisit years gone by!
Because that’s what I do. Haven’t you been listening? I am
the Ghost of Christmas...
But what purpose would it serve?
The past holds the key to the future!
Nonsense! The past holds the key to nothing but nostalgia
and sentiment. Rubbish! Vulgar, plebian rubbish! I refuse
to waste my precious bedtime on such a trivial enterprise.
Oh...that is a shame.
What is a shame?
That you think you have any say in the matter. Come!
She raises her arms and the LIGHTS and
MUSIC pick up again. She swirls over
towards the fireplace. Scrooge is
swept with her. They stand in front of
the fireplace. MATILDA lifts her arms
and the FIREPLACE OPENS again, a
stunning SHAFT OF LIGHT appearing
through it when it does. MATILDA
points into the fireplace.
What??? I’m to step through there???
(holds out her hand)
Take my hand!
Bear but a touch of my hand, there, and you shall be upheld
in more than this!
Scrooge takes her hand. With the
LIGHTS AND MUSIC at full pitch, they
step through the open fireplace and
As they do, with MUSIC AND LIGHTS
dominating the atmosphere, the stage
area is transformed into SCROOGE’S
DORMITORY ROOM AT BOARDING SCHOOL, many
A GROUP OF CHILDREN enters, singing a
Christmas song. They swirl around the
room, dancing and singing. As they
continue, Scrooge and MATILDA appear
and enter the room. Scrooge watches
and enjoys the playful singing, then as
the children continue, Scrooge speaks.
My word! It’s my old room at school! Look! My books! My
dear and only friends! Look, there’s Ali Baba! And Robinson
Crusoe! And Aladdin! Oh, that wonderful Genie, how he kept
me company those cold winter nights!
As the song ends, the group of children
dance out of the room, leaving a
solitary boy sitting in a chair in the
center of the room, struggling to write
a letter. This is Ebenezer as a young
Oh! Boy! Boy! What are you...who are you...
These are but memories. They cannot see nor hear us.
The Boy puts down his pencil, and
“Dear Father...I hope you and Fan are well. All the boys have
left for the holiday, and I am here alone. The proctor
promises a fine Christmas dinner, and...
(takes up pen)
...and...I only wish...I could spend the holiday...
(he starts to weep; stops
writing; to himself)
...in my own home...
He’s writing a letter.
Why has he stopped? Why is he crying?
He is remembering. Think hard, and you will see what he
In Limbo, in a spot of light, SCROOGE’S
FATHER appears. He is a stern man in
Stop your whimpering! I told you, you are to stay at the
school the year-round. I will not have you here with us!
The memory is too painful. I have tried to make you
understand. You are old enough to understand and you’re
certainly intelligent enough to understand. I will raise
you. I will pay for your upbringing and your schooling. But
that is all I can do. You are here. Your mother is not.
And only you are to blame! I cannot forget that! So. It’s
very simple. Stop your blubbering and be a man!
The image of the Father disappears.
BOY EBENEZER breaks down crying.
My mother..caught a chill when my sister was a baby.
My father...he said I brought the chill into the house. My
I...I am this boy.
Let us see another Christmas.
In a swirl of LIGHT AND MUSIC, Scrooge
and the spirit move to another room.
EBENEZER, Scrooge at fifteen, sits in
the same chair, alone, as before. This
time, he’s reading. After a moment, he
throws the book to the floor,
distraught. There is a KNOCK ON THE
DOOR. Ebenezer looks to the doorway.
In runs FAN, his sister, about ten
(as she runs to Ebenezer)
Brother! Dear, dear brother!
Little Fan! Why...what are you doing here? Does Father
know? If he finds out, he...
Father is waiting in the coach, Ebenezer! We have come to
bring you home!
Home? Home, little Fan?
Yes! Father is so much kinder than he used to be. He spoke
gently of you the other night as I was going to bed, so I
dared ask him one more time if you could come home to be with
us. And Ebenezer, do you know what he did?
He cried! He cried and told me how much he missed you. How
badly he mistreated you. And he hugged me and told me he was
going to bring you home to be part of the family again!
Sister! This is...this is the most wonderful...
Oh, stop talking and go!
Oh, stop talking and go! This will be the merriest Christmas
Ebenezer and Little Fan rush away.
What a large heart in such a little girl!
She reminds me of...me!
I loved her so!
She died a young woman. With one child.
(reacting to Scrooge’s
Yes. Your nephew.
He doesn’t understand. He doesn’t know what it’s been like
for me to...
Ssh! To another Christmas!
More ELABORATE MUSIC AND LIGHTS. The
scene changes to Fezziwig’s Warehouse.
When the scene change is complete,
Scrooge and MATILDA re-emerge and
FEZZIWIG appears in Limbo, checking his
pocket watch. He is a jolly, robust
man in his fifties.
Look! Look...is it? Could it be?
Fezziwig! Bless his heart! It’s Fezziwig alive again!
Ssh! Let the past speak to you!
Yo, there! Ebenezer! Dick!
Two young men in their twenties respond
to the call. One is Ebenezer, called
YOUNG SCROOGE for our purposes, the
other DICK, his friend and workmate.
(as the boys appear)
I was apprenticed here! My old workplace. I was made a man
in this establishment, I was! How wonderful to
see...Why...Dick Wilkins, to be sure! Bless me, yes! There
he is! He was very much attached to me, was Dick! Dear,
Yo, ho, my boys! No more work tonight! Christmas Eve, Dick!
Christmas, Ebenezer! Let’s have the shutters up and call in
the revelers before a man can say Jack Robinson!
Dick and Young Scrooge disperse and
call in all of Fezziwig’s employees,
who break into celebration mode
instantly. LIGHTS UP FULL ON
WAREHOUSE. MRS. FEZZIWIG dispenses
food and gifts to the employees.
There’s dancing and singing and fiddle
playing and eating and drinking and
Scrooge can hold himself back no longer
and dances and sings and revels among
all the others. Everybody else, of
course, except the spirit, is oblivious
to his participation.
As the celebration continues, Scrooge
spies Young Scrooge, his younger self,
in a corner with a beautiful young
Belle! Do you remember her?
(in some pain)
I knew you would! Listen...listen...
Scrooge does, as we begin to hear the
young people’s conversation.
I won’t always be an apprentice, you know! Someday I’ll be
rich! I’ll have more money than all these people put
Oh, Ebenezer...you know I don’t care about that.
Oh, but you should! You should hope that I achieve all my
goals and desires, for they will benefit you! If we are to
be married, I...
Ebenezer! You’ve never mentioned such a thing before!
Would such a thing be attractive to you?
I may be persuaded to explore...such a thing...
After all, with my sister Fan already married and having a
child, it’s time for me to catch up!
Young Scrooge takes a ring out of his
pocket, and puts it on Belle’s finger.
For you, my love.
Oh...Ebenezer! It’s so beautiful.
We will be happy, Belle! We will be happy and rich and
successful and powerful. I know it.
I’ll settle for happy, Ebenezer.
(as the young people embrace)
How lovely she was.
She is. Oh, she is...
As the celebration winds down and the
revelers disperse, thanking Fezziwig
elaborately, Scrooge eases back to the
Such a small matter...to make these silly folks so giddy and
thankful with a little money.
Oh, it isn’t the money, Spirit! He has the power to render
us happy or unhappy, to make our jobs light or burdensome, a
pleasure or a toil. The happiness he gives is as great as if
it cost a fortune.
Scrooge steps to the side, thinking.
I got you thinking! I knew I could do it!
No...it’s just that...I should like to be able to say a word
or two to my clerk just now. That’s all.
I only have a few more minutes! Listen! The same couple.
The same room. But a year has passed...
Instantly, we see Belle sitting in a
chair, with Young Scrooge pacing in
front of her.
Well, I am...astonished. This is the most outrageous...Why,
may I ask?
Another idol has displaced me. It can cheer and comfort you
in time to come, as I would have tried to do, had you let me.
I don’t understand what you’re saying to me. What idol has
A golden one.
Oh, no! Not you, too! Fezziwig was failing! I rescued him!
Marley and I turned his business into our own and we’ve
succeeded! What is the harm in that? I am so tired of the
notion that there is nothing to condemn in this world more
than the pursuit of wealth.
The pursuit is one thing, Ebenezer! But when the pursuit is
all that there is, then I concede defeat. Look, Ebenezer,
what happened in your family was a terrible thing. I know
that...But you’ve not been the same man since...
(sloughing her off)
It was nobody’s fault! But it’s made it impossible for you
to trust anyone or anything in the world but the comfort your
wealth provides you.
That has nothing to do with it. I have achieved my
predestined station. Can you fault me for that?
You refuse to understand...
Belle, I love you. You know that. We belong together.
Everyone says so.
Everyone doesn’t know what I know. What you know. I’m
We are to be married.
No, Ebenezer. No. I love you. I will always love you. I
love who you were, who you wanted to be before...But that
person may never be again. I know that now. I remember the
life I used to see in your eyes. I remember loving that
life. I remember adoring those eyes.
Don’t you see the life any more?
Oh...oh, yes, I do.
Well, then, I...
I see it when you’re at the counting house. I see it when
you are running your fingers through the coins and notes you
acquire in your business dealings. I see it then, I see it
there, but I see it nowhere else.
This is...not fair.
May you be happy in the life you have chosen.
Belle steps away, stops, and removes
the engagement ring from her finger.
She gives it to Young Scrooge.
This belongs to the person you once were. Find him.
But, Belle, I...
Find him, Ebenezer.
I love you. Goodbye.
As Belle disappears, the light fades on
Young Scrooge, and comes up on Scrooge
and the spirits.
Spirit! Show me no more! Why do you delight in torturing
One shadow more!
No more! I don’t wish to see it! No more!
ONE SHADOW MORE!
They exit as MUSIC AND LIGHTS
accommodate a simple scene change to a
room in the CRATCHIT HOUSE. MARTHA
sits as her mother, MRS. CRATCHIT,
paces nervously. Scrooge and MATILDA
re-enter and observe.
Spirit, what is this place?
You’ll see. You’ll see.
Will Tim be all right, Mother?
Your father will tell us, Martha. The doctor is in there
BOB enters the room, wearily.
He should be comfortable for the night. The doctor has done
all he can.
If we could only afford to take him to hospital, to an
But that...that skinflint you work for...that...that
Ssh! Ssh, now...
Father? Will he live? Will Tiny Tim live?
Tell her. Go ahead! Tell her!
But, Spirit, I have to know! I must...
COME AWAY NOW!!!
The MUSIC AND LIGHTS slowly erupt
again. Scrooge tries to listen to the
conversation but the sound of the
voices is muffled. He can’t hear.
Spirit! Spirit, what are they saying! Why aren’t you
letting me hear this!!! Spirit! Spirit!
Scrooge falls to the floor, weeping at
the feet of the spirit. A CACOPHONY OF
MUSIC and A DAZZLING SPLASH OF LIGHT as
Matilda disappears and Scrooge
continues to weep. He is back in his
bedroom. There is deathly silence.
Everything, it seems, is as it was
before the spirit appeared.
Why, I...I must have...been asleep! Yes! That’s the answer!
(the clock strikes; ding ding
Another hour approaches!
(ding dong ding dong)
Which one will this be?
(ding ding ding dong)
I’ll soon know.
(ding dong ding dong; the clock
then strikes one)
One again! Why, no time has passed at all! It’s this
foolish dreaming of spirits and whatnot has me confused!
Enough! I must get my sleep and restore myself to my normal
state of health!
Suddenly, a dazzling display of SOUND
and LIGHT. From the back of his
bedroom, Scrooge is assaulted by a
BLINDING LIGHT, which thrusts him on
his back. Scrooge turns towards the
audience. We hear the bellowing voice
of The Ghost of CHRISTMAS PRESENT.
CHRISTMAS PRESENT (V.O.)
I AM THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT!!!! LOOK UPON ME, AND
KNOW ME BETTER!!!
The Ghost laughs heartily as Scrooge
cringes in fright.
END OF ACT ONE
No time has passed. Scrooge is still
on the floor, gazing at the Ghost of
CHRISTMAS PRESENT. He is an enormous
figure, with a bellowing voice and
grand manner. He sits on a throne
surrounded by a bounty of food and
drink. Scrooge is still shaking.
I can see by your trembling knees and moist armpits that
you’ve never seen the likes of me before!
Uh...no, I have not.
You’ve never walked with the elder members of my family?
I don’t think so, no. Have you had many brothers, spirit?
More than eighteen hundred!
A tremendous family to provide for!
Ah. Not the brightest star in the constellation, I see. I
have my work cut out for me!
Spirit...if it is your charge to continue my education...
It is! Touch my robe!
Oh...I’m not very good at this...
TOUCH MY ROBE!
Scrooge does, and the LIGHTS CHANGE as
he and Present move away. As they do, a
different part of the street scene
appears, with merchants and shoppers
and street denizens going about their
Ah! The square around the corner from my counting house! Is
this a time from my past, spirit?
The time is now, Scrooge! The day is today! Christmas Day!
Oh! Of course! Christmas Day.
Bob Cratchit, with his son TINY TIM on
his shoulders, appears in the crowd.
The boy bears a crutch.
Oh, look! It’s my clerk! Bob Cratchit!
Cratchit! Oh, Cratchit!
He can’t hear you, remember? You are a slow learner, aren’t
LIGHTS FADE on Scrooge and Present and
UP on the street scene. Bob puts Tim
down, to catch a breath. Bob begins to
sing. Eventually, Tim joins him. The
tune evolves into a little DANCE, led
by Bob. Tim participates mainly by
tapping his cane. When the song ends,
the small crowd watching applauds.
LIGHTS UP on Scrooge and Present, now
in the scene, with Scrooge applauding
as well. As Scrooge speaks, Bob lifts
Tim on his shoulders again, and walks
away. A GROUP OF CAROLERS CONVENES AND
BEGINS TO SING as the scene changes to
the CRATCHIT HOUSE.
The boy is...well again!
Yes. For now.
Spirit...what do you mean? What ailment does the boy suffer?
I demand you tell me! Why is he...?
Scrooge! Can it be...you are...concerned for the boy’s
health and welfare?
Well...no...I mean...it’s none of my business...
Spirit, please! I insist you...
The Carolers complete their song as the
Cratchit house setting is completed.
Scrooge and Present observe.
Oh, where is your father? And Tiny Tim? And your sister
Martha has never been this late for Christmas dinner. Peter,
here, set these there, and these there...Oh, my goodness,
Martha promised me she’d be here to help...
(appearing; dressed far better
than her mother)
I’m here, Mother! They kept me this morning to tidy up the
Oh, Martha, you have such beautiful clothes...
Your clothes will do, Belinda...at least until that ogre your
father works for pays him what he deserves...
Oh, Mother, I wish we could have one meal that didn’t involve
a discussion about Ebenezer Scrooge.
And I wish I could live one day that didn’t reek of the
poverty imposed on us by Ebenezer Scrooge.
You’re angry because I’m late. I’m so sorry.
Never mind, child!
I’m blessed to see you! Warm up by the fire!
Here comes Father!
Up the walkway! Look! Martha! Hide!
Martha hides in a corner as Bob enters
with Tiny Tim on his shoulders. Mrs.
Cratchit greets him.
Good heavens, Bob! Where were you? You didn’t stop in to
report to Mr. Scrooge, I hope?
Of course not, my dear. Not on Christmas Day. Tim and I
stopped to do a little caroling. Where is Martha? Shouldn’t
she be here by now?
Not...not coming? But...it’s Christmas Day, I...
(runs to his arms)
Oh, Father! It was only a joke!
(relieved; embracing her)
Ah! Upon my word!
(takes off hat)
Go ahead! Count ‘em! You’ve added at least ten gray hairs
to my head!
Can you hear? Can you hear the pudding popping in the tin?
(runs to Peter, listens)
Yes! Martha! Tim! Come! Let’s listen to the pudding
The children rush off, the others
helping Tim. Bob removes his coat and
things as Mrs. Cratchit continues to
work on the table. Scrooge and Present
continue to observe.
You went to church?
Yes. We did.
And how did he behave?
As good as gold. Sometimes...he gets thoughtful, you know?
I think it’s because he spends so much time alone. On the
way home tonight he told me that he hoped people in the
church saw him with his crutch, because it might be good for
them to remember on Christmas Day who made lame beggars walk
and blind men see.
(starts to cry)
I know, dear. I know. Come. Let’s enjoy our dinner.
(composes herself a moment,
Children! We’re ready!
The family gathers around the table,
each helping Tim into his place in some
way. There is ad-lib chatter as the
family marvels at the feast. Scrooge
watches in awe.
Spirit...how...how is it possible...
For Bob Cratchit to provide such a meal on what you pay him?
Well, I didn’t exactly mean...
Bob Cratchit is a man, Mr. Scrooge. A caring man. A caring
(silencing the chatter)
Quiet! I have something to say!
Oh! Tim has something to say!
(the family laughs, as does
Such a goose, he said! Did you hear that, Spirit? Such a
(breaking the laughter)
Now, now...my dears...please, each of you, bow your heads...
“Father in heaven, bless us this day, as you have done.
Bless us as friends to each other, as friends to our
neighbors and acquaintances, and most importantly, bless us
as a family.
(all but Bob start to chatter
and grab for food)
Uh! One more thing, please. Raise your glasses of punch!
Come now, raise them up!
To Mr. Scrooge! The founder of the feast!
The founder of the feast, indeed! I wish I had him here.
I’d give him a piece of my mind to feast upon!
My dear...the children! Christmas Day!
I don’t know a day when one should drink the health of such
an odious, stingy, hard, unfeeling man as Mr. Scrooge!
Nobody knows this better than you, Robert!
Oh, I’ll drink his health for your sake! Not for his.
Long life to him! Such as it is!
(after a moment)
Don’t be sad, Mother. It’s Christmas!
I know, dear. I’m sorry. I’m sorry to all of you. I love
you, very, very much.
And we love you!
God bless us, every one.
The LIGHTS DIM on them as the family
members take their seats again and
begin to enjoy the dinner.
The LIGHTS FADE to feature Scrooge and
Spirit...tell me if Tiny Tim will live?
I see a vacant seat in the poor chimney corner, and a crutch
without an owner, carefully preserved. If these shadows
remain unaltered by the Future...
No! Oh, no!
The child will die.
No, kind Spirit, no! Please! Tell me he will be spared!
Spared? From dying? Why...I understood you approved of
dying. It...”decreases the surplus population!”
Spirit! Spirit! Please!
The spirit directs Scrooge away as the
SOUNDS of the PARTY at Fred’s house are
Spirit! What is that? Where are we going? Who is...who
They disappear as the LIGHTS COME UP
FULLY ON FRED’S HOUSE, where a small
party is in progress. There are two
couples at the party: FRED and
DOROTHY; TOPPER and GWENDOLYN. At
present, Fred is leading some children
in a singing game, which ends with all
the children gathering presents and
running off into another room.
Now, what were we discussing before the children came into
Ah! Uncle Scrooge! Well, I made every effort yesterday to
invite him to join us, but I failed miserably.
You try much too hard to accommodate him and I don’t see why.
The way he treats you.
Now, Dorothy, dear...
He is a sick old man, with sick old ideas.
My wife sees only the dark side...
Do you want to know why Scrooge is this way? Shall I tell
Oh, I wish you wouldn’t, my dear...
Oh, do tell us, Fred! Knowing old Scrooge the reason must be
a silly one! Perhaps Fred here, when he was a boy, sneaked
into Scrooge’s pantry and filched one of the old buzzard’s
month-old tea cakes to use for a doorstop!
Or better! Or better! Maybe Scrooge had an insatiable
desire to chat up little Dorothy, here..
(boisterous laugh from all)
Oh, Topper! Stop!
He’s in his cups!
And when young Fred whisked her down the aisle, old Scrooge
vowed he’d never utter a kind word in his presence again!
See what you’ve started.
Well, Fred, if you don’t want me to keep on speculating,
you’ll have to tell us!
Oh, you’d better tell him, Fred, or he’ll never leave you
Go on, dear.
Well, he...you see...he loved my mother. His sister. Fan.
Loved her dearly. And, of course, you know...you know she
died when I was born...so...
A long moment as this is absorbed.
Fred. Good Lord.
So, you see...he took it quite hard. And he never could
forgive me...for being born.
Oh, dear...Oh, dear...
And as...terrible as it is...the way he’s acted towards
me...I somehow...can’t blame him.
Well, I have no patience with him.
Oh, I have! I am sorry for him; I couldn't be angry with him
if I tried. Who suffers by his ill whims? Himself, always.
Here, he takes it into his head to dislike us, and he won't
come and dine with us. And what is the consequence, after
all, of his anger? He loses some pleasant moments, which
could do him no harm. I am sure he loses pleasanter
companions than he can find in his own thoughts, either in
his mouldy old office, or his dusty chambers. I mean to give
him the same chance every year, whether he likes it or not,
for I pity him. He may rail at Christmas till he dies, but he
can't help thinking better of it -- I defy him -- if he finds
me going there, in good temper, year after year, and saying
Uncle Scrooge, how are you? If it only puts him in the vein
to leave his poor clerk fifty pounds, that's something! And
to tell you the truth...
(begins to chuckle)
To tell you the truth...I do think I shook him up yesterday!
(all laugh lightly)
That, I would have liked to see.
Enough now! Let’s play some games!
All react enthusiastically as the LIGHT
focuses on Scrooge and Present.
Spirit! They don’t understand! He didn’t fully explain to
them how...what went through my heart the day Fan...little
But she..she had no control over....
Oh? And little Fred did have control? Is that your
argument? Are you beginning to see now, Scrooge?
See what? See what, Spirit? Are you telling me that it was
fair? Are you telling me I was treated justifiably by Fate?
It was not I who came into the world just to snatch my dear
little sister out of it!
Nor was it you who brought the fatal chill to your mother.
No, it wasn’t! My father, he...he didn’t understand, he...
To whom are you responsible, Scrooge?
What? Spirit, I don’t know how you want me to...
To whom are you responsible?
Stop confounding me, Spirit, I...
“I see a vacant seat in the poor chimney corner...”
What? What are you...?
“I SEE A VACANT SEAT IN A POOR CHIMNEY CORNER...
...and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved...”
LIGHTS re-focus on Fred’s parlor.
Explain the game again, Fred!
Oh, it’s so simple! I merely imitate something, and you ask
Yes or No questions to determine what it is!
Just go ahead, Fred! They’ll catch on!
Yes, Fred! Do go on! Topper, you are such a slow poke!
All right! Here we go!
Fred bends over and assume the visageof a grumbling, growling being of some
sort. He walks around the room angrilypushing people and things and continuesto grumble and growl.
Are you an animal?
He’s an animal.
Do you live in London?
He grunts and talks at the same time!
Could be half the people in my office!
Do you walk on two legs?
(Fred does an elaboration on
his own walk, keeps growling)
Do you live in a menagerie?
Are you ever sold at market?
Are you a horse?
NO! NO! NO!
Are you an ass?
(Fred stops, thinks aloud)
You’re getting warmer...
Growl one more time!
I’ve got it! Scrooge! You are your Uncle Scrooge!
Everybody laughs uproariously. Scrooge
sinks to the floor, next to the spirit.
Fred, still laughing, reaches for a
You see! It’s still possible Uncle can give us a laugh at
To my Uncle Scrooge! A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to
the old man, wherever he is! He wouldn’t take it from me,
but he may have it, nevertheless! To Uncle Scrooge!
To Uncle Scrooge!
The LIGHTS CROSS FADE from the party to
Scrooge and the Spirit. As they do,
the spirit finds a place to sit, and
reclines with some pain.
Spirit...are you...why, you’ve grown very old!
My life upon this Earth is very brief. It ends tonight.
At this, FOREBODING MUSIC. The LIGHTS
CHANGE to focus frighteningly on
Present. From beneath his robes, two
sets of feet emerge, hideous, almost
clawed. Scrooge is taken aback.
A blast of MUSIC. Present opens his
robes to reveal two children in dire
straits. Meager, ragged, scowling,
wolfish. And cowering in as much fear
as they inject into the atmosphere.
Spirit! Are they yours!
They are man’s! And they cling to me, hoping for
deliverance. The Boy is Ignorance. The Girl is Want.
Beware of them both, Scrooge! But most of all beware of this
The Boy emerges from beneath the robes
and slowly walks towards Scrooge, who
backs away in fear. As Present
continues to speak, the MUSIC
INCREASES, AND THE LIGHTS SWIRL.
Look at his brow, Scrooge! Can you see what is written
there? CAN YOU??? DOOM! Continue on your chosen path,
Scrooge and it is your only possible destination!
DOOM! DOOM! DOOM!
As Present bellows and the LIGHTS AND
MUSIC SWIRL, exacerbating Scrooge’s
horror, the Boy retreats to Present’s
robe. Present, still moaning “Doom!”
disappears. The horrible MUSIC BUILDS
TO A CRESCENDO, then changes abruptly
to an ominous CHORD. Scrooge is alone,
cowering in a SPOTLIGHT. He turns, and
sees ANOTHER SPIRIT appearing in the
distance. The spirit, draped in black
and hooded, moves slowly towards him.
When the spirit reaches Scrooge, he
I am in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come?
You are about to show me the shadow of the things that have
not happened, but will happen in the time before us?
(the Spirit turns and points)
Ghost of the future, I fear you more than any spectre I have
seen. Will you not speak to me?
(the Spirit points again, more
No. You will not. The responsibility is now mine to
understand. Lead on, Spirit. Lead on.
Scrooge touches the garment of the
Spirit and they ease slowly away. In
another part of the stage, A
BUSINESSMAN and an UNDERTAKER meet at a
STREETCORNER. As they speak, Scrooge
and the Spirit insinuate themselves
Oh, I don’t know the details. I only know he’s dead.
Are they sure? With him it’d be hard to tell!
Old Scratch has got his own, at last! I thought he’d never
What has he done with his money?
All I know is he hasn’t left it to me!
(they all laugh)
What are they...? Who...?
Will there be a funeral?
Oh, there will be a funeral! A cheap one, but there will be
You don’t miss a trick, Smithers!
Will you go?
I won’t go. I can’t think of anyone who would go.
You may be right. Hmm. Embarrassin’ for me, if I can’t drum
up some mourners.
I might go...if lunch were provided.
(a good idea)
Yes. Lunch. I’ll go...provided I am fed. Whatdya say?
I’m thinking...I’m thinking...
They consider this as they leave. The
Spirit starts to move away.
Wait! Spirit! Wait...I might...Shouldn’t we linger to see
if...I appear in the Square? Perhaps I could find out
who...who is dead, Spirit, I...
(the Spirit points, sharply)
Ah. No. I see. Lead on.
The Spirit moves slowly to another part
of the stage as Scrooge follows.
LIGHTS then come up on OLD JOE’S shop,
a decrepit den filled with scraps,
rags, old bottles and old bones. OLD
JOE sits in the midst of all this
rubble, smoking a pipe.
With him are a LAUNDRESS, the
UNDERTAKER and GLADYS, Scrooge’s
chambermaid. The two women carry large
bundles, while the Undertaker bears a
tiny cloth bag. The women haggle.
Scrooge and the Spirit are to the side.
‘Ere, now, I was in the door first!
We come in together! The only reason you was first was your
belly protruded its way in front of ya!
My goods, first, Joe! You’ll find ‘em worth a pretty penny!
You know me longer, Joe! Me first! She’s just the laundry
other people’s affairs!
woman. I’m the chambermaid! I got somethin’ special, I do!
(as they continue to argue)
Gladys! My chambermaid! I had no idea she was mixed up in
(he breaks them apart)
Ladies! What’s the hurry? We’re not going to pick holes in
each other’s pockets, now, are we?
I suppose not!
And he what owns these ain’t goin’ anywhere!
(they all laugh)
Ain’t it true! Ain’t it true!
We should be ashamed of ourselves.
Ah, who’s the worse for the loss of a few things like these?
Not a dead man, I suppose!
If he wanted to keep ‘em after he was dead, the old screw,
why wasn’t he natural in his lifetime? If he had been, he’d
have had somebody to look after him when he was struck with
death, instead of lying gasping out his last there, alone by
It’s a judgement on him!
I wish it were a heavier judgement, but what I brung’ll do me
fine. Open my bundle, Joe!
No, Joe! Me first!
(the women argue again)
Oh, I’m tired of the two of you. Here, Joe.
(dumps contents of bag in front
of Joe; a few trinkets)
He had precious little hangin’ off him. But what’s there is
Precious little, is right!
Yeah. Uh huh. Uh huh.
(hands over a few coins)
There’s for yours. And you’ll not get another sixpence!
(pushes her way to front, opens
(as she puts goods in front of
Sheets. Towels. Stockin’s. Night shirt. Under garment.
Under garment. Sugar tongs.
Here now! You’re the laundress! Where do you come by sugar
tongs! Explain yourself!
He had ‘em in the pocket of this night shirt!
(throws down shirt)
No explanation required!
(handing out money)
Ah...I always give out too much to the ladies. It’s a
weakness of mine! It’ll be my ruination!
Now open my bundle, Joe!
(opens it, gazes in amazement)
What’s this now? Bed-curtains?
You don’t mean to say you took ‘em down, rings and all, with
him lyin’ there?
I do mean to say it! Why not!
You were born to make your fortune, Gladys!
That’ll teach him for addressin’ me as “woman.”
Blankets? You got his blankets?
He ain’t likely to catch cold without ‘em now, would you say?
He didn’t die of anything catching, did he?
Don’t be afraid of that! And don’t forget this!
(reaches in to get a dress
Such a fancy shirt!
It’s the best he had, and a fine one, too! They’d have
wasted it, if not for me!
They’d have buried him in it, sure!
You mean...you snatched it off him? While he was lyin’
I did! And replaced it with a calico number. He didn’t look
any uglier than he did in that one!
(hands over money to Gladys)
Well, this is the end of it! What a world! He frightened
everyone away from him when he was alive, to profit us when
he was dead!
They all laugh heartily as they gather
their spoils and booty. LIGHTS FADE on
them, UP FULLY on Scrooge and the
I understand, Spirit! My lesson is learned! Gladys...the
bed curtains, so much like mine! I understand! The man
these wretched people speak of is...like me in some way!
He...he has no dignity, even in death! His worldly
possessions have been obliterated by the greed of others!
I...I am to...better myself with this knowledge...I...I
Another BLAST OF MUSIC as the Spirit
points directly upstage. There, the
body of a man on a cold slab is rolled
ignominiously on and offstage by the
NO! What is...Spirit, it is the man! The man in death! Oh,
Spirit, please take me from this place! He is alone! He is
ignored! He is...abandoned! I understand, Spirit! I have
learned! Please! Please show me someone...anyone...who has
felt some emotion at this man’s passing! Spirit! Please!
The Spirit turns and points to another
part of the stage. The LIGHTS FADE on
the silhouette and UP on KIRK and his
wife, CAROLINE, a couple in their
Well? Is the news good or bad?
Some good. Some bad.
Tell me the bad. It can’t hurt any worse than what I know
He is dead.
Dead? Well, then....to whom shall our debt pass?
Nobody knows. But before that is determined, we shall be
ready with the money. And even if we are not, whoever our
new creditor is will be hard pressed to be as merciless as
So...the good news and the bad news...are the same.
Yes. We may sleep tonight with light hearts, Caroline. We
are free! He can torture us no longer!
As they embrace, LIGHTS CROSS to
Scrooge and the Spirit. Scrooge
Oh, but their emotion is harsh and based upon this miser’s
death! Stop teaching me, Spirit! Show me some tenderness
resulting from this evil man’s demise!
The spirit points to another part of
the stage. In a sharp light, Bob
kneels at a funeral bier which holds
the body of Tiny Tim. Bob is smothered
in grief, barely able to keep himself
upright. He tries to pray.
Dear God...please...take care of my little boy. Give him now
the happiness he brought to all of us here. We are
all...blessed by his bravery, the kindness he showed us...all
the while knowing he...he...
Yes, he knew. He certainly knew. His time here was short,
and he made the best of it. I only wish I...I wish I could
(he weeps openly)
Spirit, why is he torturing himself! Why, Bob Cratchit did
everything in his power to take care of that boy!
Oh, I wish...I wish I could have...
Everything! He did everything in his...in his...
(beat, finally understands)
Bob composes himself, and stands up.
He leans over to kiss Tiny Tim. Then
he slowly walks away.
Spirit! Please! No more! No more, Spirit!
Slowly, the Spirit leads Scrooge to
another part of the stage, a corner of
the Cratchit house, where the family is
gathered, close-knit. Peter is reading
from a book. Mrs. Cratchit and the
daughters are sewing. Scrooge and the
Spirit ease to the side.
“And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them.”
(sets down sewing; rubs eyes)
The light is so dim....Where is your father? He should be
home by this time.
Always by this time. But I think now he walks more slowly
I have known him walk with Tiny Tim upon his shoulder...very
And so have I.
So have we all.
Spirit! Could I have...? Had I been...more generous to
Cratchit...would Tiny Tim have...would he have...?
(the spirit turns away from
Bob then enters, removing his hat,
scarf and coat as he does. Belinda
runs to him.
My dear! My dears!
(they all embrace; observing
And look! Why you’ll be quite ready with the quilt for the
service on Sunday!
Yes. It is all arranged. I’ve chosen...the spot.
So you visited today, then?
Yes, my dear. I wish you could have gone. It would have
done you good to see how green a place it is....But we will
visit there often...won’t we...
(he breaks down)
There is a knock on the door. Martha
steps off to answer. Bob pulls himself
together. Martha returns with Fred,
who takes off his hat as he enters.
Fred, Bob! It’s Fred.
Of course! Why...won’t you sit down, and...
No. No. Please. I just...heard the sad news. And I wanted
to extend my deepest, deepest sympathy to you and your
Well, thank you, sir.
Yes, thank you. Sincerely.
What a fine family you have, Bob!
Thank you, sir. This is Belinda. And you’ve met Martha.
You must be Peter.
He knows my name!
Your father has spoken highly of you when I’ve visited...my
uncle. We’ve talked a number of times about...
Yes...Peter...what would you say to stopping by my store on
Monday morning! I should think an apprenticeship is due a
boy about your age, wouldn’t you say!
Oh, yes, sir! Father! I’ll be able to help!
Thank you. Thank you so very much.
Well, I’ll be going. Please. If there’s anything you need.
Feel free to call on me.
Goodbye, sir. Happy Christmas.
The rest of the family also wishes Fred
a Happy Christmas as he leaves. When
he is gone, the other children gather
happily around Peter.
A caring man...a caring man...provides...
(gathering the family around
You see? The little fellow is protecting us! He is seeing
after us! Even though he is no longer with us!
So whenever we part from one another, let’s none of us ever
forget poor Tiny Tim, shall we? How patient and how mild he
was. How he would want us to stay together in our minds and
hearts as a family, no matter how far we may stray from home.
The family acknowledges Bob’s wish, as
the LIGHTS CROSS to Scrooge and the
Spirit...something tells me that our parting moment is at
hand. Tell me...please...who was the man lying dead?
OMINOUS MUSIC creeps into the scene.
Slowly, the Spirit turns and begins to
point. As the music slowly builds, we
see what appears to be a gravestone.
After a moment, it becomes clear that
an old woman is standing alone in front
of the gravestone. This is the older
Belle. The MUSIC BUILDS as Belle
shakes her head and walks away.
Why, it’s...it’s Belle. She must know this man! She
must...Oh, Spirit, who is he! Who is this terrible man!
The Spirit points sharply to the
gravestone as the MUSIC CONTINUES TO
BUILD. Scrooge slowly moves towards the
stone. The MUSIC BUILDS LOUDER AND
LOUDER as he approaches. He reaches
the stone. He leans over and wipes
snow away from the engraving. A LIGHT
SLAMS onto the stone as the MUSIC
REACHES ITS PEAK. The stone, of
course, reads “Ebenezer Scrooge.”
Scrooge wails and falls to the ground.
NO! NO!!! It can’t be!
(turns and wails; the Spirit is
SPIRIT! SPIRIT! SPARE ME! I HAVE COME TO SEE THE HORRIBLE
ERROR OF MY WAYS! I WILL CHANGE! I PROMISE! I BLESS THIS
DAY YOU’VE COME TO ME TO SHOW ME THE WAY! I WILL HONOR
CHRISTMAS IN MY HEART, AND TRY TO KEEP IT ALL THE YEAR! I
WILL LIVE IN THE PAST, THE PRESENT AND THE FUTURE!
THE SPIRITS OF ALL THREE SHALL STRIVE WITHIN ME! I WILL NOT
SHUT OUT THE LESSONS THEY TEACH! SPIRIT! SPIRIT! SPIRIT!
As Scrooge wails, the LIGHTS AND MUSIC
WHIRL him back to his BEDROOM, where he
finds himself sprawled on his bed. He
is repeating his entreaties to the
Spirits as he awakens.
I will live in the Past, the Present and the Future...I will
honor Christmas in my heart...I will...I will...
(notices the bed curtains)
Look! They are not torn down! They are not torn down rings
and all! They are here! I am here! The shadows of things
that would have been may be dispelled! They will be! I know
(runs around the room,
I don’t know what to do! I am as light as a feather! I am
as happy as an angel! I am as giddy as a drunken man!
A Merry Christmas to everybody! A Happy New Year to all the
world! Hello there! Whooooop! Hellooooo!
(he laughs--a huge guffaw; then
What was that?
A laugh! I laughed! Good heavens, I haven’t heard one of
those in years! I don’t know what day of the month it is! I
don’t know how long I’ve been among the spirits! I don’t
know anything. I am quite a baby! Never mind! I don’t
care! I’d rather be a baby! Hello! Whooop! Hello, there!
BELLS CHIME in the city. Scrooge runs
to his front window, opens it, and
spies a BOY running by. He stops him.
You there! Boy! What is today?
Today? Why, it’s Christmas Day!
Christmas Day! I haven’t missed it! The Spirits have done
it all in one night! Well, why not! They can do anything
they like! They’re Spirits! Boy! Boy! Do you know the
poulter’s in the next street, at the corner?
I should hope so!
An intelligent boy! A remarkable boy! Do you know whether
they’ve sold the prize turkey that was hanging up there?
The little prize Turkey or the big prize Turkey? The one as
big as me!
What a delightful boy! The one as big as you!
It’s hanging there now!
Wonderful! I want you to go and buy it.
(runs to money, giggling, gets
a pouch, tosses it to Boy)
Tell ‘em to bring it here, and I will direct them where to
take it. Come back with the butcher, and I’ll give you a
shilling. Come back with him in less than five minutes, and
I’ll give you half a crown!
The Boy whoops with joy and runs off.
Scrooge races back inside.
I will send it to Bob Cratchit! He won’t know who sent it!
What a superlative joke! What a magnificent idea! So this
is what it means! Merry Christmas! If I had known how
wonderful it felt, I’d have felt it years ago! Merry
Christmas! Merry Christmas!
Scrooge runs off as the SET CHANGES TO
THE STREET, where people gather
joyously, in SONG AND DANCE.
As the dance ends, Scrooge, now dressed
elegantly for the day, enters the
crowd. The tenor of the crowd
I’m not kidding!
The people begin to mumble to each
other in astonishment.
Fred enters. When he does, the crowd
continues to watch in awe as Scrooge
makes his transformation.
(beat, nothing from Scrooge)
(starts to walk away)
I know what you’re thinking.
You’re thinking...how long must I wait for that old miser to
die? How long must I wait to inherit his fortune?
Uncle, if that’s what you’re thinking, then you have no idea
what kind of man I am.
Oh, believe me, nephew. I know what kind of man you are.
Uncle, I don’t have any design on your wealth. If you really
want to know what I’m thinking, I’m thinking how wonderful it
would be if you were to find some true happiness on this day.
(beginning to giggle)
You have no design on my wealth.
Of course not, Uncle.
Good then, because it is my design to make a large donation
every year to the impoverished!
You approve, I assume?
Fred. Nephew. I was...on my way to your house. Is that
invitation to dinner still open?
Uncle...why, of course, it is! Will you come?
Fred...I am so, so sorry. Truly, I am...Will you forgive me?
Of course! Well, of course! I’ll run and tell Dorothy!
We’ll see you at the house in half an hour!
Thank you, my boy. Thank you...
(They embrace; Fred starts off)
And one more thing...
No bah? No humbug?
Merry Christmas, dear nephew.
Half an hour!
(Again, they embrace; again, he
FINK and ENTWHISTLE emerge from the
crowd and begin to sneak away. Scrooge
spots them and yells. The crowd still
stands in awe.
Oh! I told you we should have taken the other street.
Gentlemen! I would like to respond again to your plea from
We heard your response loudly and clearly, sir!
Ah, but this response is much, much quieter. Listen!
Scrooge takes out a wad of paper money,
wrests the FINK’s hand open, and begins
to pile bill after bill into it.
But, sir, I...
(finishes handing over money)
There. And a great many back payments are included.
I...I don’t know what to say.
Say nothing. Just promise to visit me when you need more.
Already? Well, whatever you say!
(hands over more money)
Thank you, sir!
Much obliged to you, sir!
They walk off happily gazing at the
money. As they do,
The crowd is now totally silent,
staring at the new Scrooge. He turns
and sees them.
Well, what are you all staring at! You know what I want you
to do, don’t you?
(they all start to run off)
SING!!! SING!!! SING!!!
The crowd disperses, singing. Scrooge
LIGHTS UP ON THE STREET SCENE, the next
morning. Fred and Dorothy appear, arm
Well, I’ll have to admit, last night’s dinner was one for the
Indeed it was!
I never thought your uncle could be so charming.
He’s been saving it up for fifty years. We were bound to
squeeze it out of him eventually.
Look! His counting house. Do you suppose he’s in?
I don’t want to find out! For now,I want to remember him as
he was last night. Let’s go before he can spoil it all!
They laugh and move away. As they
leave, Scrooge enters and paces giddily
in front of his counting house,
checking his watch fob.
Oh, he’s late! He’s late! How wonderful! He must have
reveled in his Christmas yesterday as I did! And now Bob
Cratchit is late!
He sees something in the distance, and
hides. Bob appears, taking off his
hat, coat and scarf as he tries to rush
into the counting house.
(Bob stops in his tracks)
What do you mean by coming here at this time of day?
I’m sorry, sir. I am a bit behind my time...It’s only once a
year, sir...You see, I was making rather merry yesterday,
sir, and I...
I don’t want to hear your feeble excuses! I am not going to
stand for this sort of thing any longer. And therefore...
(Bob puts on his hat)
...because of the way you have worked in this shop...
(Bob puts on his scarf)
...and because of the manner in which you treat me...
In the distance, we hear the CAROLERS
Wait! Do you hear that?
Hear what, sir?
Oh, the caroling, sir. Yes. I hear it.
(the singing gets closer)
It’s lovely, isn’t it?
Yes, sir. What, sir?
I said the singing is lovely.
Sir, are you feeling all right?
Well, then...there’s only one thing for me to do.
Scrooge steps over to the front of the
counting house, and reaches for the
Scrooge and Marley sign. He removes
the “Marley” part of the sign,
revealing the new name: “Cratchit.”
The sign now reads “Scrooge and
Mr. Scrooge...I don’t know what to say...
Say nothing. We will discuss everything this very afternoon
over a Christmas bowl of smoking Bishop! From this day
forward, Bob, your family will want for nothing. Ever again.
Mr. Scrooge, I...my little boy, he...
Yes. A hospital. What he needs...is his.
Mr. Scrooge...I wish I had something to...to give to you...
You’ve given me more than you can imagine. You’ve taught me
that a caring man provides.
I’m so happy, sir.
Merry Christmas, Bob Cratchit.
Merry Christmas, Mr. Scrooge.
They go into the counting house as the
lights slowly fade to evening. A man,
his wife and children enter. The man
begins to sing “Silent Night.” Slowly,
more and more townspeople enter,and
join in the singing. Bob’s family,
including Tiny Tim, arrives on the
scene. They join in as well.
Belle appears, and greets some of the
people as the song continues. Scrooge
finally arrives, and looks through the
crowd until he finds Belle. She is
taken aback. He takes a ring out of his
pocket, and gives it to her. For a
beat, the singing stops.
I found him, Belle. I found him.
The singing continues. Scrooge finds
Tiny Tim, and lifts him into his arms.
The carol concludes. The LIGHTS DIM.
CRITICAL RESPONSE FOR THE PORCH BY JACK NEARY
"Jack Neary's THE PORCH is everything theatre should be. It is endearing, drop-dead funny, heartbreaking and, in the end, triumphant. I left the theater thinking to myself, Gee, I wish I'd written that."
Dick Flavin, Emmy-winning author and humorist
"Enduring friendships and shared tragedies. Playwright Jack Neary mines what is near and dear to us in THE PORCH. A trio of elderly ladies hilariously parse topics of sex, impotency and death with wide-eyed surprise...Neary's ear for comic banter is especially sharp and the audience laughed uproariously at recognizable references to long marriages and family dynamics."
The Boston Globe
“Populated with characters as familiar as colorful relatives at a family reunion, THE PORCH is to eastern Massachusetts what Steel Magnolias is to northwest Louisiana.THE PORCH is a deceptively tender play that is also very funny. It's an inviting place to set a while and will leave you feeling right neighborly."
"This ensemble is one of the funniest that I have seen in a long time. Each actor was perfect in their roles and really brought their characters to life. This is a show that will make you laugh out loud and cry with its tender moments. So get off the couch and get on THE PORCH."
The North Shore Tab
"THE PORCH has - and this is no knock - all the best entertainment elements of the most creative situation comedies. Audiences can expect to be told a good story and to laugh a lot. THE PORCH is a play that will appeal to just about everyone, including people who normally wouldn't go to the theater. You can even safely drag your husband or father to this play, and count on the fact that he'll leave with a smile on his face."
“THE PORCH delightfully captures the dialects and family dynamics audience members no doubt can relate to. Watching THE PORCH is sort of like watching your parents and their friends talk in dated terms about things like sex and religion — but funnier. THE PORCH shows creativity’s potential for greatness at its best.”
"Thanks for inviting us to see THE PORCH. We just LOVED it. It was beautifully written and directed. And we just loved those actors. We were both in tears at the end of your show, just awe-inspired...THIS is why we do theatre."
...AND FOR ITS PREVIOUS MANIFESTATION, BEYOND BELIEF
"BEYOND BELIEF is a poignant, playful mix of sex and religion."
The Boston Globe
"This entertainment shrewdly, if coyly, lampoons Catholics’ repressed attitudes about sexuality."
The Boston Herald
"They play it for laughs and get plenty…But in the end it is the poignant ‘why and how did it happen?’ question that reverberates through BEYOND BELIEF, proving once again Neary’s ability to elicit serious reflection through the laughter and tears."
The Lowell Sun
“It is a good time for a show like BEYOND BELIEF. It should be praised for being a piece of real entertainment that, before it lets us go, has the power to ask: What are we really laughing at?"
“Neary has created a perfect mix for his cutting laceration of blind-faith, religious conservatism. Some of the best comedy writing, direction and performances I've experienced in my 40+ years in the theatre.”
Theatre New England
“BEYOND BELIEF features pinpoint performance and the very best in comic timing. The punch lines are…imaginative and fresh. Neary has a knack for injecting one-line gems at appropriate moments. The entire opening night audience rewarded fine work with a standing ovation. Neary has been an active presence in Western Massachusetts theater. This is surely one of his finest efforts."
THEATER REVIEW: ‘Kong’ offers gigantic laughs
By IRIS FANGER For The Patriot Ledger
I’m delighted to report that playwright Jack Neary’s new comedy, ‘‘Kong’s Night Out,’’ which opened this past week at the Lyric, delivers no redeeming features of a message or morality, other than an evening’s worth of laughs - and surely, that’s all to the good.
Based on a certain film about an overgrown primate with a yen for blondes, the Lowell-based Neary invents a back story to explain this landmark in the history of American culture. The Lyric has mounted a world premiere production of the play, which was developed partially in a new program at the theater called Growing Voices, dedicated to supporting the work of local playwrights.
‘‘Kong’s Night Out,’’ the first product of the endeavor, hits one out of the park for the home team.
Under the astute direction of Spiro Veloudos, who has never seen a door on stage that couldn’t be slammed or a joke that shouldn’t be spoken faster than jet-plane speed, this screwball farce starts at the top when Myron Siegel, Broadway producer, enters, and pushes the actors up the walls of the set even higher.
However, any such action by the accomplished group of clowns in the cast assembled by Veloudos might be considered a criminal violation of the principles of architectural design, given Robert M. Russo’s elegant setting of an art deco hotel room with the skyline of New York visible above the French doors to the balcony. Gail Astrid Buckley’s period gowns should make every woman wish for a return to 1930s fashion.
Neary has mixed the genre of screwball farce with the tradition of backstage drama to give us a plot line, if it could be called that, about two dueling producers who are opening new shows on the same night.
Siegel’s premiere is a musical called ‘‘Foxy Felicia,’’ but much of his audience has canceled its tickets to attend his rival’s mystery presentation. Hints about a large monkey are floated and when a blabbing blonde in a Jean Harlow wig and costume shows up in Siegel’s hotel room, he determines to steal the rumored creature and add him/it to his chorus line.
On Siegel’s team are his potty-mouthed mother, Sally; the hoodlum, Little Willie, Siegel’s accomplice, who comes equipped with a pair of brass knuckles; and Siegel’s niece, Daisy, a rube just off the bus from Buffalo in search of a career on stage.
Sally, who does not answer to the name Grandma when Daisy embraces her, has sunk her life savings in ‘‘Felicia.’’ If it flops, she goes back to nights on her feet as the hatcheck girl at the Plaza Hotel.
There’s also Siegel’s two-timing wife, Bertille, affectionately nick-named ‘‘Tushie’’ by her lover, and a mysterious letter that Daisy carries to her uncle - wink, wink - which provides the setup for the ending. And that’s just Act I.
Neary is well-served by this fearless cohort of actors, led by the hysterical but resourceful Larry Coen as Siegel, the Carol Burnett look-and-act-alike Lordan Napoli as Daisy, and Rachel Harker, strutting her smarts as a comedian in the role of the inconstant wife. Ellen Colton, a veteran of more than 1,200 performances in ‘‘Shear Madness,’’ plays Sally.
The play falters a bit in Act II, even with the kick of Kong on the horizon.
However, there are so many loose ribbons to be knotted, it’s hard to imagine how this cat’s cradle of confusion might have been solved and wild horses will not drag from me details of the gimmick dreamed up by Veloudos and Russo to bring in the talked-about star. The Lyric ends one of its finest seasons on record with another succulent theatrical treat, all the more satisfying because it’s home-grown. Don’t miss this one.
KONG’S NIGHT OUT At the Lyric Stage Company, 140 Clarendon St., Boston. Through June 3. Wed., Thurs. 7:30 p.m.; Fri. 8 p.m.; Sat. 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sun. 3 p.m.; $20-$45; 617-585-5678, lyricstage.com.
Copyright 2006 The Patriot Ledger Transmitted Saturday, May 13, 2006
High time on 'Kong's Night Out'
BOSTON -- Monkey business rules in Kong's Night Out, a rowdy new farce from Lowell's own Jack Neary, which premiered at Lyric Stage Company on Wednesday.
The monkey, of course, is monster primate King Kong. The hairy beast has gone ape for blonde bombshell Ann Darrow, slipped out of his chains and stormed Manhattan. If you think this clever play sounds vaguely like the classic 1930s flick King Kong, you're right.
Neary's taken that premise and given it a back story, inventively imagining what might have happened in the suite at that hotel, on which the furiously fuming Kong descends as he pursues Ann.
The screwball comedy involves Broadway producer Myron Siegel, archrival to Carl Denham (Timothy Smith), the nature photographer who has brought Kong back from the wild. Siegel, wonderfully played by the Larry Coen, is distraught since Denham's mystery show, starring Kong, is outselling Siegel's new venture, Foxy Felicia -- despite the fact that Felicia's cast is stacked with glamour girls.
Plot twists also involve Siegel's sexy wife Bertrille (a sensuous Rachel Harker), an opportunistic actress who's carrying on with Denham; his spunky niece Daisy (talented Lordan Napoli), the "hot dog" hooting wannabe actress from Buffalo; his nagging mother Sally (the wonderful Ellen Colton); his vocabulary-spewing sidekick Little Willie (the comical Steve Gagliastro) and Hungarian investor Sig Higgenbottom (zany MJJ Cashman, another Lowellian).
Neary's script is demanding, with tongue-twister jokes and rigorous repartee. But the cast is up to its demands. Each has perfect comic timing, crucial to carrying off such a farce.
Director Spiro Veloudos, Lyric's producing artistic director, keeps it running smoothly, from each slamming door and pratfall to the running gags, gun-slinging gals and that one climactic moment -- we won't give it away -- when Kong makes a cameo.
Kong is the first effort from the Lyric's new, grant-funded Growing Voices program to "nurture and develop our local playwriting community and to contribute to the body of new American plays and musicals."
The Lyric sets a good example of how new plays should be developed -- over a year or two, in workshops, with a completed script ready for actors and director to dig into before expecting an audience to pay good money to see the results.
Kong is worth the trek into Boston to see what Neary has been up to -- writing funny plays with legs, audience appeal and a future in the regional -- or even off-Broadway -- market.
Kong’s Night Out
by Jennifer Bubriski
EDGE Entertainment Contributor
Wednesday May 10, 2006
Well-done comedies are a rare creature, whether on television, in the movie theater or on stage. Seeing original comedies in a local theater is an even more infrequent pleasure, so the Lyric Stage’s world premiere of Kong’s Night Out is a reason to cheer, even if the production isn’t flawless and a few of the jokes fall flat. The zippy production provides enough chuckles and outright guffaws to not only warrant your trip to see it, but other groups across the country to license this screwball comedy and perform it.
The play, written by Jack Neary (who previously directed Lend Me a Tenor at the Lyric), is set in the luxurious hotel suite of theatrical producer Myron Siegel (Larry Coen), who’s thought-to-be-a-surefire-hit musical Foxy Felicia is opening to a virtually empty house, thanks to a mysterious "attraction" that Siegel’s lifetime rival and nature-filmmaker Carl Denham (Timothy Smith) is premiering across the street. The attraction is rumored to be big and hairy with a lust for blonde chicks (yes, folks, we’re talking King Kong himself). With the help of his mother Sally (Ellen Colton), SAT-word-quoting henchman Little Willie (Steve Gagliastro) and even his exuberantly naïve hick of a niece Daisy (Lordan Napoli), Siegel hatches a plot to kidnap Anne Darrow (Sarah Abrams), the object of the ape’s affection, in order to save his show.
From the opening lines of a faux Walter Winchell doing a rapid-fire entertainment report to the soaring art deco set (that makes the Lyric’s postage stamp stage actually look spacious), we know we’re firmly in 1930’s screwball comedy territory, with all the machine gun line delivery, borderline corny jokes and slamming doors that entails. Some of the jokes are a hit, like the double entendre running joke of the use of the word monkey, as when Denham proudly proclaims, "You want to look at my monkey, you’ll have buy a ticket like everybody else!" Others fall a bit flat, some due to the writing itself (there’s an painful jokes about pigeons and statues that even the actors delivering the lines didn’t seem to think was amusing) and a few due to imperfect timing on the part of the actors.
Acting this type of a play is challenging (and exhausting) and although the actors are up the challenge (most have honed their comedy craft with either Shear Madness or Ryan Landry’s Gold Dust Orphans), except for some nice bits, they don’t really get there until the second act, when the madcap ensemble hits a rhythm, Kong starts climbing buildings and people start whipping out machine guns and blonde wigs. So, although there are some sputters during Act One (some due awkward pauses where the actors are waiting for laughs on jokes that aren’t funny), the success of Act Two means that with a few more performances under their belt, the cast should be able to cruise through both acts firing on all cylinders.
In what is truly an ensemble show, Coen as Siegel is a fine anchor, although he looks a bit old to have Colton (a scream when she’s confronted with having to seduce a fat, balding financial backer with a bad wig) for a mother. Coen knows how to deliver this type of dialogue; he just needs to feel as comfortable with all of his lines as he does in his perfect scenes with Christopher Loftus as the delightfully dimwitted fiancé to Ann Darrow or Smith as Denham. With fewer lines or stage time than the other actor’s, Smith nearly steals the show as you wish his perfectly preening Denham could be strutting through every scene, spitting out threats and love lines (oh, yes, he’s having an affair with Siegel’s wife) with the same Humphrey-Bogart-as-played-by-Steve-Martin delivery. Gagliastro’s Willie also nails the style of the show, again, particularly when in scenes with Loftus or Napoli.
Although Napoli’s Daisy threatened in her first scene to be, well, too dorky to be funny, this character’s relentlessly all-American-girl gung ho "Let’s put on a show and catch us a big ole ape!" attitude somehow utterly sucked me in. Although Napoli walks right up to the overacting lines and starts to teeter over it, her delivery ultimately worked for me, as she mixed a down to earth practicality with utter cluelessness. When she recaps the plan for capturing Kong, it’s a scream.
Kong’s Night Out is a show that delivers a lot of laughs already and shows terrific promise. Do the cast, playwright and the Lyric a favor - go and see the show and laugh when moved to do so. The cast will perfect their timing, Neary will learn how to trim out the parts that don’t work and the Lyric will garner much-deserved attention (and revenue) for producing this new work, Oh, and you’ll get a great ab workout from laughing.
Runs at the Lyric Stage through June 3, go to www.lyricstage.com
Kong's Night Out in World Premiere at Lyric Stage Company
Kong’s Night Out
Written by Jack Neary
Directed by Spiro Veloudos
Scenic Design, Robert M. Russo
Costume Design, Gail Astrid Buckley
Lighting Design, Scott Clyve
Action and Fight Choreography, Clifford M. Allen
Larry Coen as Myron Siegel, Ellen Colton as Sally Charmaine, Lordan Napoli as Daisy, Steve Gagliastro as Little Willie, Rachel Harker as Bertrille Siegel, M.J.J. Cashman as Sig Higginbottom, Sarah Abrams as Ann Darrow, Timothy Smith as Carl Denham, Christopher Loftus as Jack Driscoll
Performances thru June 3 at the Lyric Stage Company Box office 617-585-5678 www.lyricstage.com
Webster’s defines farce as "an exaggerated comedy based on broadly humorous situations; an absurd or ridiculous action," but I could add a third definition: a spanking new play by Jack Neary. The world premiere of Kong’s Night Out at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston has all of the requisite door slamming, pie-in-the-face, double-crossing, and physical comedy we expect, as well as world-class performances and direction. Along with its technical attributes, it is the total package.
Producing Artistic Director Spiro Veloudos, who also directed this play, has chosen to conclude the Lyric’s stellar season with the first offering from the new Growing Voices program. Its mission is to develop and produce new plays by Boston playwrights and is spearheaded by Producing Associate Rebecca Low. Neary approached Veloudos with the idea for Kong while directing Lend Me a Tenor at the Lyric in May, 2002. Assisted by Low, they have worked together on the script for the past year and a half to bring the play to the stage.
The stage itself is a key component as both the scenic design of Robert M. Russo and the costume design of Gail Astrid Buckley evoke the feeling of the 1930’s in all of its Art Deco splendor (the story is set in a midtown Manhattan hotel suite in October, 1933). The New York City skyline rises in silhouette above a wall centered by double glass doors leading to a balcony, flanked by four deco-style doors to interior (unseen) rooms. Upstage is a bar with two stylish stools and a wine-hued velvet loveseat, while a half-moon black lacquer desk draws our attention downstage. The old-fashioned dial telephone on the desk is a much-used prop.
The story begins as impresario Myron Siegel is about to open his new Broadway show Foxy Felicia, but he learns that his patrons are returning their tickets in droves in order to attend the attraction being offered by his archenemy Carl Denham. The rivalry between the two showmen can be traced back to the time when Siegel’s mother rejected the affections of Denham’s father. He was a famous producer and unaccustomed to rejection, especially by a fan dancer such as Sally Charmaine, but her heart belonged to Myron’s father. This set off a chain of events of revenge and the younger Denham carried on the fight, sabotaging every show that Myron mounted.
Myron’s challenge is to find out the nature of Denham’s "attraction" so that he may get the upper hand in the sabotage game. He employs his henchman Little Willie; his niece Daisy who is visiting from Buffalo in the hope of getting into show business; his mother, and his not-so-trustworthy wife to get the skinny on Denham’s surprise. They learn that it is a monkey and plot to steal it to put it in Siegel’s show, but the plans get bigger and more out of control in direct proportion to the ever increasing size of the simian. Bertrille is fooling around with Denham and gets caught by Daisy. Denham spews a lot of tough guy lines and says things like, "You want to look at my monkey, you buy a ticket like everybody else." He talks in cliches, but he pulls it off because it seems right for the character and the era.
A battle of wits ensues as Siegel shamelessly kidnaps Ann Darrow (the beauty that attracted the beast), manipulates her fiancé Jack Driscoll, and dissembles in the presence of his major backer Sig Higginbottom at every turn. Meanwhile, Denham and Bertrille are trying to hide important information from Myron in order to dupe him and protect their own interests. As in any good farce, it is sometimes a little hard to follow who is coming and who is going in and out of which doors and why, but it makes the ride fast, furious, and fun.
All of the players exhibit marvelous comic timing and, although the play was still in previews when I saw it, everything was seamless. Act Two opens with a raucous fight among Daisy, Sally, Bertrille, and Little Willie that is choreographed beautifully by Clifford M. Allen. The creative team has been making changes right up until curtain, but this group of actors has responded like the professionals they are. According to Neary, their involvement in the process has been great.
The playwright considers Kong’s Night Out to be an homage to the 1933 film and he has tried to be faithful to the original story. He wanted to know what might have happened in the hotel room next to the room where Fay Wray gets taken away by the ape. He chose the vehicle of a screwball comedy, typical of the 1930’s, to play with that idea. The madcap antics and frenzied activity keep the audience atwitter, but the writing could be tightened up to reduce the groan factor, especially with much of the dialogue between Little Willie and just about any of the other characters. Steve Gagliastro offers a believable portrayal of a "dese, dems, and dose" kinda guy who is trying to become erudite by using big words, but the henchman is mostly one-dimensional.
Lordan Napoli’s Daisy drew my attention every time she came onstage. She was fresh-faced, lively, and even a little over the top, but that meshed well with the fast pace of the farce. Rachel Harker does a nice turn as the narcissistic femme fatale and Sarah Abrams does more than might be expected of her as the Beauty of Beauty and the Beast. My biggest rave goes to Ellen Colton who seemed to channel a younger Thelma Ritter in her role as Sally Charmaine. Her body language (a slouch with attitude), wry face, and sardonic tone combined to create a striking resemblance to the second banana of many old black and whites. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself!)
The strong cast and design team are the highlights of this production. The script problems notwithstanding, with its Growing Voices program the Lyric Stage Company has taken one small step for Boston’s playwriting community and a giant leap for American theatre.
It’s Kong-sized fun and hilarity in the Lyric Stage Company’s latest and last production of the season, Kong’s Night Out. Written by Jack Neary and directed by the Lyric Stage Producing Artistic Director, Spiro Veloudos, the play is receiving its world premiere here in Boston. Inspired by the 1933 film, King Kong, Neary came to Veloudos in 2002 with the idea of setting a story in a hotel room adjacent to the room where Kong grabs blond bombshell Ann Darrow on his way to their fateful date on the Empire State Building. Veloudos loved the script, which he calls “a combination of screwball comedy and parody,” and the Lyric Stage was happy to present it.
The nine-member cast of local, extremely talented actors has the one and only Larry Coen at its center. We know Coen best through his work with Ryan Landry and the Gold Dust Orphans. In Kong, he is infectious as Myron Siegel, a down on his luck Broadway producer with a family history of being overshadowed by his nemesis, Carl Denham. Carl, played by the incredibly handsome Timothy Smith, and Myron are classic characters, and Coen and Smith make good stage company, playing off each other’s ability to hold an audience as the center while not overshadowing the rest of the cast at the same time.
Not that the others need any help on stage. Ellen Colton, as Myron’s mother Sally, is a natural, Christopher Loftus, as the dashing Jack Driscoll, literally is Jack, and a huge applause goes to Lordan Napoli as Daisy. Napoli’s comic timing is perfect, complete with laughable expressions and a quick wit. Rachel Harker, M.J.J. Cashman, and Sarah Abrams round out the cast, each just as important to the story as the big man. Oh, you didn’t know? Kong himself makes an appearance, in a scene that will make you wish the night would never end.
Lyric Stage’s Kong’s Night Out is currently up at 140 Clarendon St. (the YMCA building, the corner of Stuart and Clarendon), Boston. Tickets $20-$45. Curtain Wed. and Thurs. at 7:30 p.m., Fri. at 8 p.m., Sat. at 4 and 8 p.m. and Sun. at 3 p.m. Special matinee. Wed. May 31 at 2 p.m. Meet the playwright Neary after the May 18 performance, and the entire cast “talk-back” after the May 21 performance.
Info: 617.585.5678 or lyricstage.com
'Kong' gets an enjoyable but restrained night out
By David Brooks Andrews, Standard-Times correspondent
Just what was going on in the suite next door when Fay Wray was plucked from her hotel room by King Kong?
That question is the clever premise of "Kong's Night Out" by Lowell's prolific playwright, Jack Neary. This screwball comedy is being given an energetic and enjoyable world premiere by the Lyric Stage Company of Boston.
The short answer to the question is lots of monkey business. The long answer involves a Broadway producer, Myron Siegel, his entourage — including an aspiring actress niece from Buffalo — and a longstanding feud with Carl Denham, the nature filmmaker who brought the 40-foot gorilla, Kong, to Broadway.
For the benefit of all who are familiar with the classic film "King Kong," Neary makes his play dovetail with the film's story, but the rest is all his invention, in the manner of 1930s screwball comedies.
There are plenty of jokes in this show, but they tended to elicit knowing smiles rather than spontaneous explosions of laughter at a recent performance.
Myron's niece Daisy constantly refers to her hometown Buffalo as if it's the backwater of all backwaters. "Don't look at me, I'm from Buffalo," she says. At another point she calls the bathroom a privy, explaining that's the Buffalo term. Part of the extended joke is that she's slow to catch on in some ways but in other ways has more common sense than the sophisticated New Yorkers.
Another thread of humor involves Myron's henchman, Little Willie, who's constantly trying to improve his vocabulary by using words that nobody else knows. The jokes tend to add color to the characters more than catch us off guard in a way that would have us rolling in the aisles.
One of the funnier moments occurs when Daisy overhears Myron's actress wife, Bertrille, making a phone call to her lover and referring to herself as Tushie. You can imagine the fun that's had with that name as Daisy, who's never laid eyes on her aunt before, assumes it's her real name. Suddenly we're jolted to greater level of engagement because it feels like the plot is about to become dangerously out of control.
That's exactly what the plays needs more of — a sense of recklessness as it careens along the edge of a cliff, rather than being something we admire, as we do, for its very clever construction. To be sure, a farce with this many characters needs to be well constructed, but it's more fun for us if it feels like the characters are in greater control than the playwright is. And if the playwright and cast have a lighter hand with the jokes.
Under director Spiro Veloudos, the actors keep the pace moving at a good clip. One feels a little guilty, as if we owe it to them to help out with more spontaneous belly laughs. Some of the acting is a little over the top at times, but in a farce there's room for broader acting.
Larry Coen as Myron Siegel brings constant energy to the show as he orchestrates much of the action. Ellen Colton as Sally Charmaine, Myron's mother, has a charmingly tough edge and is especially winning as she tries to resist the advances of the overweight Budapest producer Sig Higginbottom (M.J.J. Cashman) with a toupee that looks like a pigeon's nest has fallen on his head.
Steve Gagliastro as Little Willie adds to the feeling that these Broadway producers, who pack heat, are virtually interchangeable with Mafia gangsters.
Lordan Napoli in the role of Daisy has good country brashness, but she's one of the actors who would benefit from pulling back a little on her performance. Rachel Harker brings a lovely sophisticated touch to Bertrille (AKA Tushie) while bouncing between whatever man seems most able to offer her a stage role at any given moment.
Christopher Loftus adds fresh air to the show as Jack Driscoll, the fiancÃ© of King Kong's girl, Ann Darrow, played by Sarah Abrams appropriately as a blond floozy. And Timothy Smith rounds out the cast as Myron's nemesis and Kong's impresario, Carl Denham.
Scenic designer Robert M. Russo outdoes himself in creating a gorgeous 1930s hotel suite with numerous Art Deco touches, ranging from four elegant glass panels to fanned ribs above the doorway through which we see a silhouette of the New York City skyline. He's also created a very convincing and frightening hand of King Kong that swings into the suite.
Gail Astrid Buckley's elegant dresses also capture the period beautifully.
"Kong's Night Out" doesn't provide the roller coaster ride one expects from a screwball comedy, but it's more than clever enough to make for a pleasant night out for audiences.
"Kong's Night Out"
What: A world premiere of a farce by local playwright Jack Neary that takes off on the classic film "King Kong."
Where: Lyric Stage Company of Boston, 140 Clarendon St. (Copley Square), Boston.
When: Through June 3.
Tickets: Range from $20 to $45 and can be purchased by calling (617) 585-5678 or going online to www.lyricstage.com. Ask about validated parking.
Lowell playwright bites back in 'Apple'
LOWELL -- Longtime Lowell theater fans may remember Jack Neary's First Night, a delicious little two-person romantic comedy that was a hit at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in the mid-1980s.
In Neary's autobiographical comedy, The Big Apple, they learn what really happened when Neary took a bite out of the Big Apple -- New York City -- and how the Apple actually bit him, when he ventured there with First Night in the early 1990s.
Neary directs a first-rate, fast-paced production of The Big Apple in its regional premiere with Lowell's Image Theater Company at the McDonough Theater. It opened Thursday and will be performed tonight and next Friday and Saturday.
The Big Apple is Neary on edge, slightly R-rated, yet at the top of his game with his trademark sharp, funny, insightful writing.
Apple is set inside playwright Bob's brain. Bob, Neary's mild-mannered, befuddled alter ego, (a subdued Justin Budinoff), battles the brash, offensive, very "New Yawk" Mr. Apple. A micro-manager, Mr. Apple is played to sublime pushiness by the energetic Jerry Bisantz, who stepped in last week when the original Mr. Apple took ill.
Apple calls the shots, makes the moves, pushes the envelope and generally gets things done. He knows the right people, directors, casting agents, actors -- and even the right zip code for Bob to realize his off-Broadway dreams. He's funny, flip, fiery and irreverent, a true original with a mouth that won't quit.
A bevy of other characters pop in and out of Bob's brain, as well. They generally make life miserable, adding to his angst as they cut and shape his play, molding it to what they feel will appeal to New York audiences and dreaded critics.
Standouts include a riotous John Pease, who shines as Carleton, a Charles Nelson Reilly-type director. Mark Leahy charges into his four roles with aplomb and proves a winner with each, especially as director Perry and Danny, the boy in First Night. Erin Cole is just like Meredith, the First Night girl in several productions we've seen over the years. And Eve Passeltiner, a Lowell newcomer, excels as Ellyn, the actress playing Meredith. Sally Nutt's a dity Bitsy, the generous producer.
Big Apple builds and hits its stride in Act II, then comes to its savory conclusion after the show opens and the New York Times critic slices Bob's play to bits. He takes a hefty bite, but Bob -- or Neary -- has the final say -- and it's satisfying, to say the least.
Here's Neary at his best and another feather in the cap of the fledgling, yet talented Image Theater Company. Kudos and keep up the good work.
Performances continue tonight at 8, Friday, Feb. 17, at 8 p.m., and Saturday, Feb. 18, at 4 and 8 p.m. Tickets are $19, $15 for seniors and students. Call 978-441-0102.
DAILY HAMPSHIRE GAZETTE, January 11, 2006
Say it already!, 'Jerry Finnegan's Sister' comic play about first love's agony
BY ERIC SEAN WELD
Sandra Blaney and Steve Gagliastro star in Jack Neary's comedy 'Jerry Finnegan's Sister' at the Majestic Theater through Feb. 12.
WEST SPRINGFIELD - It took 23 years, numerous failed attempts and ultimately a sly ruse to finally inspire Brian Dowd to do what he should have done long ago.
In 'Jerry Finnegan's Sister,' a comedy by Boston playwright Jack Neary playing at the West Springfield's Majestic Theater through Feb. 12, Brian is the proverbial boy next door in love with neighbor Beth Finnegan, his friend Jerry's kid sister. But as they grow up together, Brian struggles endlessly with his own lack of courage and self-esteem, allowing opportunity after opportunity with Beth to slide through his fingers.
Neary, who co-founded Northampton's New Century Theatre, wrote 'Jerry Finnegan's Sister' almost 20 years ago. The play, among his most successful, has been produced by companies steadily since its premiere at the Summer Theatre at Mount Holyoke College, where Neary was serving as artistic director at the time. Last year, Neary also directed his play 'First Night' at the Majestic.
As a comedy, 'Jerry Finnegan's Sister,' a two-character play, is a laughing delight, especially the first act, seasoned with priceless one-liners and reminiscences from everyone's life - of that frightening first kiss, the agony of wanting another's attention and the pang of jealousy.
Neary, a veteran of comedy, simply knows funny. His well-timed references to Milk Duds and the Brady Bunch, for example, slip in and out of the dialogue so smoothly, the audience laughs easily, without always knowing why. And as Brian and Beth portray their childhood selves at ages 7, then 10, it's apparent in his writing that Neary has not lost touch with his own inner child, though the target ages in the dialogue might have been off by a couple years.
On another level, the play is frustrating, by design, as Brian Dowd passes up multiple chances to venture to another level with the love of his young life, even when it's literally staring him in the face. On that level, 'Jerry Finnegan's Sister' poignantly elicits the missed opportunities in life, moments when potential triumph wilts in the shadow of fear, a re-visitation of the regretful lament, 'If I could only go back with what I know now.'
As Brian Dowd, local actor/musician Steve Gagliastro carries a heavy load, narrating the story line, while slipping in and out of his character at different ages and scenarios. His boyish look is just right for the childhood Brian, and his self-conscious pouting suited the teenage portrayal. As a 23-year-old, the comedy is still served by Gagliastro's interpretation of a boy who never grew up and never successfully shirked his childhood nerd.
Sandra Blaney's Beth radiates from the stage each time she walks on, and her character dominates the atmosphere, lending credibility to Brian's lifelong infatuation. From her first entrance, as she comically preens in the stage lights, Blaney projects a command of attention. In many small ways, she assists with the depiction of her character, tiptoeing as a child across her front-porch steps, tracing pirouettes when she's nervous, and exclaiming in cheerleader chants as a high schooler.
Neary's direction makes good use of the ample space on the Majestic stage, as the two characters liberally fill the area of action with their interplay. Here, the stage appearance is helped with the versatile, Rockwellian set design by Greg Trochlil, who consistently creates settings at the theater that ably complement and support the story.
'Jerry Finnegan's Sister' tells a story played out repeatedly in towns and neighborhoods around the world through all of history. The nerdy, awkward kid with a good heart pines for his neighbor, the beautiful, popular girl, but so fears her rejection that he can never make his move.
So effectively is this timeless situation portrayed in 'Jerry Finnegan's Sister' that by the end, the audience is vocally pleading with the characters: 'Say it already,' they yelled, 'Just say it.'
The Majestic Theater is located at 131 Elm St. in West Springfield. For more information on performance times, call the box office at 747-7797. Tickets for the play range from $17 to $25 and can be ordered by calling the box office.
Jerry Finnegan’s Sister
131 Elm Street
West Springfield, MA
January 5th - February 12th 2006
When a playwright directs his own work, you can be sure that the finished product will convey the author’s original vision for the piece. When the playwright/director is Jack Neary, you can also be sure it will be a comedic gem.
Steve Gagliastro’s portrayal of Brian is dead on. As the show progresses, you can’t decide whether you want to give him a comforting hug or a sobering smack to the head.
Sandra Blaney plays Beth expertly as the subject of Brian’s unrequited love and the source of much of his angst.
Both actors are completely convincing and fully immersed in the characters as they play out scenes from their lives. Their scenes as young children are particularly impressive. Throughout most of the play the audience is intentionally drawn into scenes creating some truly wonderful moments.
Good comedy has a rhythm, it flows like a piece of music. JFS has that rhythm. There were only a couple of missed beats, however, when the production is the theatrical equivalent of a 2 hour performance of “Flight of the Bumblebee”, one can certainly expect and overlook that.
Set designer Greg Trochlil and artist/decorator Bev Browne finish the job of bringing the audience into Brian and Beth’s world. The creation of the backyard (complete with picket fence) flanked by the characters’ respective homes is quite beautifully done.
There were a few moments however when the set seemed to interfere with the smooth segue of scenes.
Jerry Finnegan’s Sister is a fast-paced, laugh out loud look at life and love.
These reviewers definitely weren’t the only ones who left the theater wiping tears away and feeling a little stitch in the side from laughter.
'Sleuth' stars find comfort in their trust
By Richard Duckett TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
Phil Killbourne and Chip Phillips in "Sleuth" (TRINA M. HOLUB)
Where: Worcester Foothills Theater Company, Commercial Street, Worcester.
When: Now through Nov. 20.
How much: $26.50 to $35, depending on performance. Box office, (508) 754-4018.
Phil Kilbourne and Chip Phillips have never acted together before, but it has been helpful to their roles in the Worcester Foothills Theatre Company production of 'Sleuth' that they've been getting along.
Kilbourne noted that a clue to a successful mystery-suspense is if the actors playing the lead protagonists like each other especially if they are portraying antagonists on stage.
'There's an animosity which you can't really get on the stage unless you like him,' Kilbourne said of swapping the barbs with an actor. The reason is, 'You have to be able to have trust. I think when I met Chip I said, 'Yeah, this is going to work out.' '
Phillips, the quieter one of the two, nodded his head.
In 'Sleuth' (now running at Foothills through Nov. 20), Kilbourne plays Andrew Wyke, a famous mystery writer who may well be past his prime as he sounds off with his jaundiced British prejudices. And yet Andrew has invited Milo Tindle (played by Chip Phillips) to his English country home where he now lives alone even though the guest is half-Italian and has been sleeping with his wife. Actually, it doesn't seem that Andrew minds (he has a mistress of his own). In fact, Andrew has a helpful suggestion for the impoverished Milo namely that he stage a burglary at the house and make off with some expensive jewels. Milo will be able to sell them at a good price, while Andrew, who could use some money himself, can cash in on the insurance policy.
But don't be fooled. A game is being played here one character against the other. And as the play unfolds it becomes an increasingly dangerous game of who is fooling whom. And yes, a police inspector will call.
'They're really chewy pieces,' Kilbourne said of the devious characters Shaffer created. 'All of the roles are chewy. It's very well written and it flies all over the place.'
Which should make for an absorbing time for the audience as supported by the evidence of the play's 35-year life span ('Sleuth' was also made into a delicious 1972 movie starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine.)
'You really can turn the tables on them (audience members),' Kilbourne said. 'But it's a fine line. You play the game with the audience as well as the character. The actor has to fool the audience, making sure they understand that they don't understand. It's a juggling act. If you overdo people will say, 'Oh that's just silly.' '
Still, in this case 'Sleuth' seemed to be playing out. Kilbourne and Phillips were being interviewed at Foothills the day after the first preview performance.
'The first preview went really well,' Kilbourne said. Then he tapped his hand against some nearby woodwork. 'The show can be a technical nightmare, but, knock on wood, the technical stuff worked out every well last night.'
A three-and-a-half star review was in the production's future which no doubt helped the rapport between Kilbourne and Phillips.
And yet, as was alluded to earlier, the two actors are quite different personalities. Kilbourne, 53, has a wry, dry sense of humor and gave the longer answers to most of the questions asked. In contrast, Phillips, 48, seemed quite shy (albeit, like Kilbourne, perfectly amiable). But if Kilbourne seemed slightly more at home during the interview, compared with Phillips, he's a relative stranger to Foothills. Kilbourne has been seen at Foothills before in the 2001 production of 'Don't Dress for Dinner.' However, that pales compared to Phillips, who has been in 12 previous Foothills shows.
His last one prior to 'Sleuth' was 'A Christmas Carol' in 2000.
Phillips is glad to be back.
'Worcester always seems to come along and save my bacon,' Phillips remarked. He recalled that earlier in his career he had moved to California for 'a miserable year-and-a-half' and then came back East after being cast in a Foothills show. 'It was nice to be with a community of actors and a supportive atmosphere. So it feels like coming home,' he said.
Home for Phillips had been Boston until he moved to New York City two years ago. His Foothills credits have included 'From Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill' and 'On Golden Pond.' In Boston he had an 18-month run in 'I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change.'
The change to New York has not been totally perfect.
'New York's tough,' Phillips acknowledged. 'If I work, I work out of town. It's hard. I barely see my wife these days.'
Nevertheless, the reason for moving to New York was to explore a 'bigger market, a wider net,' Phillips said. His wife, actress and stand-up comedienne Julie Perkins, has benefited from that and been busy. And living in New York can offer some unusual opportunities. On his day off from 'Sleuth' last week, Phillips had a gig as an extra watching the lithe dancers at the 'Bada Ding' club during the shooting of an episode of 'The Sopranos.'
Speaking of Soprano-land, Kilbourne is originally from New Jersey but lived in Boston several years as a student and actor. A re-connection with his 'high school sweetheart,' Marysue Moses, led to marriage and relocation to St. Paul, where his wife runs Theatre at Work, which offers theater-based training on social issues such as sexual harassment and violence in the work place.
Over the years Kilbourne said he has done a lot of theater work for director Jack Neary, who directs the Foothills production of 'Sleuth.'
'I've done a lot of murder mystery with Jack. I've killed people for Jack a lot. I'm his go-to guy for slaughter,' Kilbourne deadpanned.
He had also played Andrew in 'Sleuth' six years ago. Neary remembered and gave him a call. Kilbourne is heavily involved as an actor with Theatre at Work but the dates for 'Sleuth' worked out.
'I had done the show before. It was perfect.'
Neary had been talking to Phillips, and invited him to audition.
'It worked out well,' Phillips said.
So when they were asked how they felt about returning to Foothills and appearing in 'Sleuth,' there was no mystery about it.
'I love coming back to New England,' Kilbourne said. 'It seems in Minnesota there's the crass theater and highly experimental theater. And the good theater only a few theaters practice it. I like it that Foothills practices good theater and is a popular theater.'
Phillips nodded in agreement.
Tuesday, November 1, 2005
Strong showings by actors help witty SLEUTH to shine
By Paul Kolas TELEGRAM & GAZETTE REVIEWER
Written by Anthony Shaffer, directed by Jack Neary. Presented by Foothills Theatre Company, 100 Front St., Worcester. Performances on Thursdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. through Nov. 24. Tickets: $26.50-$32. Call (508) 754-4018 for reservations, or book online at www.foothillstheatre.com.
With Phil Kilbourne, Chip Phillips, Philip Farrar, Harold K. Newman and Roger Purnell.
WORCESTER'Sleuth' is a play fecund with sly wit and deadly motivation, engineered to showcase the elegantly creative perversity human nature is capable of, a psychological mind game that at its fundamentally British core stokes the clashing fires between upper and working class mores, as represented respectively by Andrew Wyke and Milo Tindle. Jack Neary, who has directed several Foothills Theatre Company productions, has guided Phil Kilbourne (Andrew) and Chip Phillips (Milo) skillfully through the deceitful thickets of Anthony Shaffer's work in Foothills' latest offering, which played to a disconcertingly sparse audience on Sunday.
'Sleuth' is a high wire act that requires resourceful and focused actors to pull it off with elan, attributes thankfully found in the fully engaging performances of Kilbourne and Phillips.
Any summation of 'Sleuth' must be truncated in the extreme due to the labyrinthine nature of its plot, but there are a few essential details that can be divulged without criminality. Andrew is a wealthy mystery novel writer who has invited his wife's lover (Milo) to his ornately rustic home to meet him and propose a plan to provide the financially struggling Milo with a means of supporting her in the luxurious lifestyle she's accustomed to. Yes, you read that correctly.
It seems that Andrew is all too willing to give his high-maintenance wife away. To wit: Milo will 'steal' Margarite's jewels, sell them to a fence Andrew knows in Amsterdam that will give Milo full value for them (90,000 pounds), Andrew then pocketing the insurance money. Milo, of course, is suspicious of all this, thinking that Andrew is really a vengeful husband plotting a frame-up.
As the first act comes to a close, with Milo attired in a clown's costume Andrew has supplied for the mock burglary, those who have never seen 'Sleuth,' either onstage or the 1972 film with Sir Laurence Oliver and Michael Caine, will be pondering what lies in store in the second act after a gunshot turns a brainy duel into a seemingly deadly affair.
There is at times an irritating air of contrivance about the way Shaffer sets up his adversaries, like pieces on a chessboard, but there are also shards of indignation ripping through the wonderfully literate patter. There is no doubt he sides with Milo on matters of class.
Milo symbolizes the upstart working man, half Jewish, half Italian, who has dared to insinuate himself into the upper strata of British society by taking Andrew's wife from him. Milo owns a travel agency but is financially adrift, and can certainly use the lure of Andrew's scheme to boost not only his bank account, but, far more importantly, to be worthy of supporting Margarite.
Phillips does what he must in the role of Milo: he plays him shrewdly on the intellectual defensive in the first act, allowing Andrew to have free-flowing discourse of all his brilliantly devious ideas.
It's passive-aggressive acting that evolves into inventive pathological calculation as the 'game' progresses. If all that sounds nebulous, it's meant to be.
After all, this is a mystery reliant on surprise.
But there is no mystery about Phillips' insightful performance, nor Kilbourne's extra dry martini portrayal of Andrew. Here's a man nauseatingly in love with himself, supremely insouciant to the feelings of anyone else. It's a pleasure to watch Kilbourne confidently toy with Phillips, flaunting his arrogance with acidly delivered retorts, often mocking the police or bragging about his sexual prowess with his mistress Taya.
As he says in one of the play's many great lines: 'sex is the game, marriage is the penalty.'
As the battle lines shift and Andrew is forced into frantic reappraisal of his master plan, Kilbourne does an excellent job of backpeddling with damage control cunning, like an aging boxer against the ropes who has underestimated his opponent and is forced to employ whatever means necessary to stay in the game and preserve his sense of honor.
Both actors keep the dialogue bouncing back and forth like a well-played tennis match.
Philip Farrar (Inspector Doppler), Harold K. Newman (Detective Sergeant Tarrant), and Roger Purnell (Police Constable Higgs) are little more than window dressing for the thespian acrobatics of the two lead roles, but one needs to see the show to know exactly what that means.
James Wolk's scenic design is well worth noting, a sprawling upstairs-downstairs melange of bookshelves, closets and a laughing, one-legged sailor.
Foothills' 'Sleuth' sparkles
By David Brooks Andrews / Daily News Correspondent
Sunday, November 6, 2005
Have you ever noticed that the anticipation of attending a murder-mystery inevitably exceeds the satisfaction that you're left with once the murderer has been exposed and the curtain has come down? You might say that it's a theatrical theorem.
We get so excited beforehand that we often forget that there will be an inevitable letdown, to some degree.
But Anthony Shaffer's "Sleuth" is one of the top-drawer thrillers precisely because the gap between our anticipation and the feeling we're left with afterward isn't as great as it often is. "Sleuth" has a psychological complexity that challenges us to think more than most who-dun-its. And it leaves us with something once the bubble has burst and all the secrets we've been trying to figure out are revealed.
Foothills Theatre Company is giving "Sleuth" a polished, taut production under the skillful direction of Jack Neary, who has appeared as an actor in Foothills productions and who's an accomplished playwright. His adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" has become a Foothills holiday staple.
You're better off if you have poor memory for theatrical plots, as I do, so that every time you see a production of "Sleuth" -- if there's enough time in between -- it feels like a new play. An excellent film version was released in 1972 with Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine in the two leading roles. But don't see it before catching the Foothills production.
When the play opens, the British mystery writer Andrew Wyke has invited his wife's lover over for the evening. She's out of town.
"I understand you want to marry my wife," Andrew says, getting straight to the point, although in a civilized tone. "Yes, with your permission," responds the stunned Milo Tindle. The play is packed with such witty lines, some of which are so unexpected they'll take your breath away.
Andrew seems perfectly happy to have his wife taken off his hands. But he wants a guarantee that she won't be returning and is concerned that Milo doesn't have the resources to support her expensive habits. So he proposes an elaborate scheme by which Milo steals her jewels and sells them to an Amsterdam fence while Andrew claims the insurance.
Almost any thriller requires that we suspend our disbelief at some point in order for the story to leap to a level of complexity that will keep us confused and engaged at the same time. It's hard to believe that Milo, as the respectable owner of a travel agency, would fall for such a scheme. But Chip Phillips as Milo does a creditable job of resisting as long as he can, and Phil Kilbourne as Andrew is equally creditable at pushing the proposal.
Once Milo accepts, you're in for some big laughs as he dons a surprising costume at Andrew's insistence in order to carry off the crime. It quickly becomes apparent that this is an evening full of game playing, with extraordinary humiliation and cruelty as a means of exacting revenge.
When Andrew says that Milo must ransack the house to make it look like a burglary has taken place, Milo delights in ransacking it far more than Andrew had in mind, flinging the pages of his latest manuscript, "The Body on the Tennis Court," across the room.
It would be cruel to give away any more of the plot than this, but it can be said that underlying Andrew's hatred for Milo is an upper-class British snobbery that rebels against knowing that an Italian Jew has more passion for his wife than he himself is able to muster.
These are extremely demanding roles, both vocally and physically. Kilbourne is superb at maintaining Andrew's superiority while bouncing in and out of various vocal imitations. His Peter Falk is hilariously dead-on. At the press opening, Kilbourne stumbled over a few lines, which is understandable given all that he has to master, but no doubt he'll have everything down pat soon. He's at his best when the tables turn and he suddenly finds himself in desperate situations.
Chip Phillips brings a driving straightforwardness to Milo, and he, too, is good at conveying a sense of desperation. Philip Farrar is very funny as Inspector Doppler, giving him the feel of a continental Peter Falk, as he willingly accepts drinks on the job ("I can't afford to drink on my own time") and is methodically brilliant at sniffing out clues.
Harold K. Newman as Detective Sergeant Tarrant and Roger Purnell as Police Constable Higgs have the desired effect in spite of limited stage time.
Scenic designer James Wolk has created an elegant living room and upstairs landing of a wealthy British manor house. It gives just the right atmosphere to the play.
Foothills' production of "Sleuth" makes it perfectly clear why this has been one of the more successful thrillers for decades. After seeing it, you won't be surprised to learn that before the author of took up playwriting, he was a divorce lawyer. No doubt, he saw plenty of cruel games between bitter couples to draw upon.
"Sleuth" runs through Nov. 20 at Foothills Theatre, 100 Front St., Worcester. Tickets range from $26.50 to $32 and cost $18 for students. They can be purchased by calling 508-754-4018 or going online to www.foothillstheatre.com.
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'Sleuth' Snares Audience In Its Trap at Foothills Theatre
November 11, 2005 - by Nancy Grossman
"SLEUTH" Snares Audience In Its Trap at Foothills Theatre
Written by Anthony Shaffer
Director, Jack Neary
Scenic Designer, James Wolk
Lighting Designer, Jason Rainone
Sound Designer, Ed Thurber
Production Stage Manager, Steven R. Espach
Andrew Wyke, Phil Kilbourne
Milo Tindle, Chip Phillips
Inspector Doppler, Philip Farrar
From the moment of entering the auditorium at the Foothills Theatre, the playgoer has the feel of being in the English country manor of Andrew Wyke, the protagonist of Anthony Shaffer's British thriller "Sleuth." Scenic Designer James Wolk and Lighting Designer Jason Rainone have succeeded in creating a magnificent living room cum study, divided into two tiers where the action takes place. The lower tier contains Wyke's desk and typewriter (how quaint!), the glowing fireplace, a cocktail cart, shelves laden with books and games, a large red leather chair, and the life-size Jolly Jack Tar sailor dummy that laughs at Wyke's jokes. The central focus of the upper tier is a tall diamond-paned window. A grandfather clock and a wardrobe flank it. The room reflects its occupant's lifestyle with the casual placement of a fishing pole, skis, fencing mask, tennis racquet, and fish tank. Even the stirring, regal music playing over the entrance serves to set the scene and tone of this "veddy, veddy" upper crust home.
Andrew Wyke is a 57-year old English mystery writer with an air of arrogance about his writing and his place in society. He has invited 35-year old Milo Tindle to his home to confront the latter about his affair with Wyke's wife Marguerite and to make a somewhat indecent proposal. It seems that Wyke is more than willing to let Tindle have his wife, but wants to be assured that he will be able to "support her in the style to which she wasn't accustomed before she met me, but now is." He wants to avoid the possibility that she will return to him if Tindle disappoints her financially. With that in mind, Wyke lays out his plan for Tindle to rob the safe in the manor of some very expensive, very insured, jewelry, which he can then fence for 90,000 pounds. Tindle will have his small fortune, Wyke will collect on the insurance, and the divorce will go ahead as promised.
Phil Kilbourne plays Wyke with a mix of bored arrogance and childish glee as he sets up the game and tries to convince Chip Phillips as Milo to play along. As expected, the young antagonist is incredulous, then wary as he listens to the plot. He is eventually drawn in by Wyke and by his own greed. However, Phillips does not convey how he was convinced to take part in the scheme, seeming to give in because the script called for it without showing us his transformation. Still, once having joined the game, Milo is nearly as spirited as Wyke in the preparations for the burglary.
After a good deal of exposition to explain the background circumstances and the blueprint for the game, it is at this point that Shaffer and Director Neary pick up the pace of the play. The remainder of the first act and the second act move along with many twists and turns which the audience must follow closely lest they be fooled by a red herring.
Andrew is so convincing in establishing the cat and mouse game, despite Kilbourne's occasional stumble over his lines, that his sudden shift at the end of Act One comes as much of a surprise to us as to Tindle. Intermission is a necessary interruption, but one that can't end soon enough as we wait to see what happens next.
Whereas the tension is uneven in the first act, it is consistently palpable after the break. The arrival of Inspector Doppler of the local constabulary to question Wyke about Tindle's disappearance heightens both the confusion and the tension for Andrew and the audience. The Columbo-like Doppler (Philip Farrar) persists in his pursuit of the truth until he bests the mystery writer who regards him with disdain for being just a local yokel. The scenes in which Andrew gets his comeuppance are deliciously sweet when viewed as revenge for his contemptuous treatment of his seemingly lesser opponents, both Tindle and Doppler. He who was the hunter becomes the hunted and Kilbourne makes us believe that Andrew is in fear as he realizes just how clever is his competitor in this new game.
There is more excitement and drama as "Sleuth" takes its final twists and turns en route to a most satisfying denouement, but I don't want to give away the ending of this classic battle of wits. Foothills Theatre has mounted an admirable production of this 1971 Tony Award-winning Best Play which deserves an audience that doesn't know quite what to expect. If you are not able to get to Worcester, then read the play or rent the 1972 screen adaptation starring Michael Caine and Sir Laurence Olivier. Put on your thinking cap and polish your magnifying glass.
Wits, twists and time
The '70s parlor game called Sleuth opens at Foothills
By Chet Williamson
Programming mysteries in November is a tradition at Foothills. This year's choice for the month is the British war-horse Sleuth, which was a phenomenal success when it opened in 1970, having run for more than 4,000 performances in London and New York. In 1971, it won the Tony Award for Best Play. A year later it was made into the equally successful film of the same name, starring Michael Caine and Sir Laurence Olivier.
Thirty-five years later the classic still holds up. Written by the late playwright Anthony Shaffer, who also wrote such screenplays as Death on the Nile and Frenzy, Sleuth is a dense little chamber drama for all seasons.
The fiendish plot spins around Andrew Wyke, a detective storywriter of some merit and regard who invites a young business-type, Milo Tindle, to his estate for a drink. Wyke has a pressing matter to discuss with Tindle. It appears that the younger man is having an affair with the famous author's wife.
As much a psychodrama as it is a mystery, Sleuth deftly trots out a series of devices and themes that give the storyline its layered richness. In the opening scene of the first act, we already know that this is a play about jealously and deceit, arrogance and humiliation, class and subjugation.
Sleuth is also a story of power. Tindle wants to break into the British gentry. Wyke, who is only mildly threatened by the adulteress affair, really wants to put the young upstart in his place. To teach him a lesson, he hatches a sadistic plot, one that ultimately finds the tables turned.
Phil Kilbourne, who inhabits the part with just the right amount of scotch and cynicism, plays the role of Wyke. Kilborne was last seen at Foothills in 2001's Don't Dress for Dinner.
Chip Phillips, who has appeared in numerous Foothills productions over the years, is nearly letter-perfect as Tindle. He was last seen on the Worcester stage in A Christmas Carol.
Sleuth is essentially a two-person play. In order for it to work, both parts have to be cast with dynamic characters. With some reservations, Kilbourne and Phillips fill the bill. Wyke is a product of the British ruling class, a quasi-literate, righteous snob with suppressed homosexual tendencies. Kilbourne walks in the role comfortably with all the smarmy correctness of a smoking jacket.
The part of Tindle requires the actor to be young and virile. It was written for someone who is basically a swarthy Mediterranean beefcake. This is not Phillips. It is a credit to his acting ability that he pulls it off. His excellent performance proves he was not miscast.
In the tradition of classic British theatre, Sleuth is narrative-driven. The actors recite lines a mile long. They also have to move in and out of character. Kilbourne and Phillips deliver a variety of accents and dialects with crisp diction that gives the performance clarity.
Jack Neary, the director of choice these days at Foothills, directed Sleuth.
Sleuth is a play that teeters between the shifting powers. In the opening act, Tindle is a tragic and vulnerable sucker too na•ve to know he was dealing with a madman. In the second, he suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome and is fierce in his focus and intent. In the opening act, Wyke is maniacally self-assured and sinister. When the tables turn in the absurd parlor game, he should be the picture of remorse, a broken lunatic repulsed by his own madness. He's not. This unevenness is one of few faults in an otherwise thrilling performance. A tip-of-the-hat goes to scenic designer James Wolk for a set that had the look of being suitably lived in.
Sleuth opened on the weekend of Halloween. It was attended by half-a-house on a Saturday night. It is highly recommended.
Chet Williamson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
‘Carol’ conveys spirit of redemption
By Paul Kolas Telegram & Gazette Reviewer
‘A Christmas Carol’
Rating: Good job
Written by Charles Dickens, adapted and directed by Jack Neary, musical direction by Fred Frabotta, musical arrangements by Jim Rice. Performaces: Thursday, Dec. 23, 7 p.m., Fridays, Dec. 1-17, 7 p.m., Friday, Dec. 3, 2 p.m., Saturdays, Dec. 4, 11 and 18,
3 p.m. and 7 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 5, 2 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 12 and 19, 1 and 4 p.m..
At Foothills Theatre Company, Worcester Common Outlets mall, 100 Front St., Worcester. Tickets: $29 adults, $14.50 children.
WORCESTER— Foothills Theatre has trimmed all the extraneous largesse out of this year’s edition of “A Christmas Carol,” resulting in a fleet 90-minute-plus production that still retains the essence of Dickens’ redemptive tale.
John Davin’s portrayal of Scrooge is as indelible as ever, maybe more so, since he seems to take extra care to snarl and then preen with delight around the stage after his spiritual baptism by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. Many of those who have graced the show in recent years are back, including Wil Darcangelo as Bob Crachit, Cory Scott as Scrooge’s nephew Fred, Stephanie Carlson as Scrooge’s former beau Belle, Shana Carr as Fred’s wife Dorothy, Colleen Kelley as Scrooge’s chambermaid Gladys, Dawn Tucker as Mrs. Crachit, and Michael Dell’Orto as the Ghost of Jacob Marley.
One might well ask, how does this production compare to those in the past? For the most part, judging by Sunday afternoon’s performance, favorably, especially since Davin seems to take it upon himself to invest Scrooge with an extra measure of glee when he transforms from parsimonious ogre to reborn humanist. This has always been a showcase for Davin’s singular portrait of Scrooge, and he seems to have given the old miser more room to ad-lib and embellish his character, as when he tosses a money bag to a young lad to buy the biggest Christmas turkey in the poultry market and the boy drops it. Davin calls out “nice catch,” followed by “almost.” When he wakes up from his otherworldly ordeal with the ghosts, he’s more effusive than ever in the joy of being granted a second chance to be a good soul. He’s vital to the success of this production, and has an unerring way of connecting with the audience.
There is less time devoted to the cavalcade of ghosts wringing Scrooge from his bed, so they perform their enlightening duties with more efficient dispatch. Twelve-year-old Maya Morales is wonderfully assured as the Ghost of Christmas Past, displaying both a playfulness and wonder at her ability to conjure up the images of Scrooge’s childhood and apprenticeship at Fezziwig’s. Bob Dolan doubles as both Fezziwig and the Ghost of Christmas Present, playing the latter with regal pomp and purpose. Nathan Colby makes a very able Ghost of Christmas Future, but the show seems to lag for a few moments during his segment, as Bob Crachit mourns over the small coffin of Tiny Tim. Michael Dell’Orto is once again frightful as the Ghost of Jacob Marley, although it was difficult at times to hear what he was saying because of the reverberative sound effect of his voice booming a warning to his former employer.
Other standouts include Colleen Kelley’s colorful portrait of Gladys, who has ratcheted her level of impudence as Scrooge’s chambermaid up another notch, explaining to him she’s serving him “soup” with “bits of beef” in a way that is pure inflective sarcasm. Cory Scott generates much empathy as nephew, Fred, who is determined to instill the spirit of Christmas in his uncle against all odds. Stephanie Carlson once again registers strongly as Belle, the girl Scrooge let go of in favor of financial gain. Wil Darcangelo etches Bob Crachit with the right blend of obsequiousness toward his boss and tender regard for his family, notably Tiny Tim. Dawn Tucker, as Mrs. Crachit, skillfully walks the fine line between dismay and tolerance for her husband’s boss. Shana Carr is a radiant presence as Fred’s wife, Dorothy, and also plays a lively fiddle. Steve Gagliastro, as the Young Scrooge and Fink, brings the show to a heartfelt close with a lovely rendition of “Silent Night.”
One of the chief virtues of director Jack Neary’s interpretation of Dicken’s story is the connection he makes between Scrooge being unfairly blamed by his father for giving his mother the “chill” and causing her death, and Scrooge’s irrational resentment toward his nephew Fred for being born at the expense of his sister Fan’s life. It not only allows us to understand why Scrooge has become the hardened man he is, but enlivens and deepens his positive transformation.
By Paul Kolas
TELEGRAM & GAZETTE REVIEWER
DEATHTRAP; written by Ira Levin, directed by Jack Neary. At Foothills Theatre Company, Worcester Common Outlets mall, 100 Front St., Worcester. Performances at 2 and 8 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 4 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays; and 2 p.m. Sundays through Jan. 25. Tickets $26.50-$32. Call (508) 754-4018 for reservations.
With Peter Bubriski, Chris Loftus, Donna Sorbello, Bobbie Steinbach and James Bodge.
WORCESTER- Ira Levin's fiendishly clever hall of mirrors thriller "Deathtrap" has been served up with crisp and engaging vigor by Foothills Theatre Company.
Director Jack Neary's taut direction, and his resourceful cast and crew, held Sunday's audience captive with Levin's tale of hubris, deceit, treachery and seemingly inexhaustible plot permutations.
"Nothing is as it seems" is certainly a coda that applies to the story of a once successful playwright of thrillers, Sidney Bruhl, desperately seeking to revive his flagging career by stealing a young protege's "gifted director proof" play, and even killing him in the process.
Please don't feel anything vital has been revealed here, because from that incipient contemplation and deed, Mr. Levin takes us through multiple layers of unveiling surprises that shock as well as amuse.
In a prescient way, "Deathtrap" now seems a quaint precursor to reality TV, where the story writes itself as real life events unfold. What distinguishes it from the weary banality of such modern-day pop culture fodder is its wit and inventiveness.
Considering that Peter Bubriski (Sidney Bruhl) and Chris Loftus (playing the ambitious young playwright Clifford Anderson) had only one week to rehearse together before the show's opening, they've managed to create a palpable rapport with each other.
Mr. Bubriski captures Sidney's inflated ego with throwaway ease. He is truly a man in love with his own reputation, a victim of tunnel vision straining to be as clever as possible.
In a way, he's a mixture of Gloria Swanson's Norma Desmond in "Sunset Boulevard" - living in the past and confusing it with the present - and one of Hitchcock's sinister characters, up to no good and self gain.
Mr. Bubriski conveys all these attributes with style, nuance and bravado. Mr. Loftus matches him in intensity, and as the play's many twists unfold, his chameleon persona adapts convincingly right along with them.
The rest of the cast surrounds these two with fine support. Donna Sorbello plays Sidney's wife, Myra, with both the empathy and consternation her part calls for. She finds the right note of emotional ambivalence regarding Sidney's horrific scheme.
James Bodge is also excellent in the small but crucial part of Sidney's lawyer, Porter Milgrim, who suspects things are remiss in the Bruhl household.
Then there is Mr. Levin's scene stealer, the irrepressible, inimitable, and clairvoyant next-door neighbor, Helga Ten Dorp, played with disarming style by Bobbie Steinbach. Every inflection of her broken English stumbled its way triumphantly to the one-more-trick-up-its-sleeve finale.
The set is a rustic fun house of swords, knives, handcuffs, even a crossbow, and special mention is deserved for Jason J. Rainone's effective lighting design and Edward Thurber's startling sound effects.
Even the antiquated references to David Merrick and Joseph Papp fail to keep this "Deathtrap" from being a contemporary pleasure.
Ten Little Indians' -- Agatha Christie classic provides perfect island escape
By LYN LEGENDRE
Newburyport Daily News, July 17, 2003
"Ten Little Indians." By Agatha Christie. Directed by Jack Neary. Featuring Robert Azevedo, Kurt Bergeron, Robin Bornstein, Chuck Galle, Allan Mayo, Jape Payette, Tim Pilleri, Lisa Richardson, Mary Shapiro, and Jim Sicard. Presented by the Firehouse Center for the Arts, Market Square, Newburyport. Performances Thursdays through Sundays through July 27.
"Ten Little Indians," Agatha Christie's cleverly crafted, classic whodunit, is the perfect vehicle for a relatively sophisticated summer escape. Set in the well-appointed living room of an Indian Island retreat, off the coast of Devon, England, the mystery unravels at a brisk pace, captivating onlookers with infinite, creepy possibilities and ever-mounting suspense.
When a prerecorded voice accuses 10 island visitors -- three women and seven men -- of murder, with a different scenario and victim for each, an atmosphere of suspicion and tension is quickly established.
On the surface, each of the 10 temporary islanders, including two serving people and eight supposed diners, appears capable, charming, or even quite polished. The ladies wear dresses and hats; the gentlemen tend toward suits and ties. And then there are those utterly dignified British cadences. With a general, a doctor, and a judge among the company, the group might even be considered fairly distinguished.
Yet it immediately becomes apparent that something is amiss. For one thing, no one really seems to know the absent host or hosts. Although the guests believe they have been invited to the secluded home by an unknown Mr. and Mrs. Owens, even that detail is sketchy.
There is mention of a gracious invitation with the name Una Nancy Owen attached. But someone interprets that as U.N. Owen -- or unknown. And then there's that matter of the 10 Indian figures on the mantel. One by one, these figurines diminish in number, and with each subtraction or elimination, another guest meets his or her unexpected, grisly demise.
With no telephone or boat available on the island, and the added inconvenience of choppy seas, it becomes evident that this sojourn is something less than a day at the beach. As one nervous guest soon proclaims, "I think the pleasures of living on an island are rather overrated."
Of course, there are more twists and turns here than one could easily sum up. And as the increasingly petrified guests surmise, perhaps the culprit is among them. So, should they delve into one another's backgrounds? Should they heed those nasty accusations of murder that the disembodied voice broadcasts over the gramophone? Should they form small alliances or stick together?
What about that crusty Emily Brent (Mary Shapiro)? Sure, she appears to be a proper, knitting old matron in support stockings and sensible shoes, but she certainly makes no secret of her opinion of young people as highly impertinent, immodest and immoral. As for Dr. Armstrong (Allan Mayo), although he may be an acclaimed nerve specialist, wasn't he once a surgeon witha drinking problem?
And as regards the comely secretary Vera Claythorne (Lisa Richardson), didn't a child in her charge actually drown? Yes, General Mackenzie (Chuck Galle), an emotional widower, may have adored his young wife Leslie, but didn't she have an affair with one of his men?
When everyone is suspect, who can one respect? Although the décor is perfectly civilized, even calming, what evil lurks at the center of this colorful assemblage of humanity in a remote location?
Susan Sanders' inviting set, a symphony in pale grays and teals, superbly swaddles the show in comfort and urbanity, but that lovely facade only serves to emphasize the underlying message that appearances can be entirely deceptive.
Meanwhile, director Jack Neary has clearly encouraged his enchanting cast to imbue this chamber piece with a thorough sense of ensemble. Every role is played with grace and conviction, and the even-handed acting makes each character simultaneously sympathetic and suspect.
While potassium cyanide, lethal injections, knives, axes and nooses do come into play here, "Ten Little Indians" still offers good, wholesome escapism. True, the bodies do mount up, but the bulk of the violence occurs offstage, and these articulate Brits are not exactly folks we off-islanders deeply identify with or fully come to know.
Thus, it is in the nifty execution of the convoluted plot that the audience finds summer fun and diversion. Then, the return to reality can easily be accomplished by a simple walk along the Port City's beautifully restored, scenic walkway.
And let theater’s ‘Proof’ equal excellence
By LARRY PARNASS, Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 5, 2003 -- NORTHAMPTON - The sniff test didn't go to college, but it beats brainier measures. Which are you going to trust, after all: memory of when you bought that milk, or the way it smells?
There is a sniff test for theater. "Proof" - one of the finest productions ever staged by New Century Theatre - sailed through it at last Thursday's opening night.
This is a family story without a whiff of contrivance. Director Jack Neary's production of the prize-winning drama about mathematics and mental illness - set in a leafy back yard in Chicago - looks and smells like life, not a well-meaning dilution of it.
Yes, stage productions should pass the sniff test as a matter of course. They don't. It is worth proselytizing for those that do.
Audiences are leaving the theater convinced by this "Proof." The production is the latest evidence that New Century Theatre stands in the company of the best regional theaters in the country. I feel duty-bound to warn people that it runs only through Sunday. See it or be sorry.
Tonight offers a special feature - a post-show "talkback" with members of the cast. For the price of admission, tonight's audience gets a backstage look at the making of "Proof."
The Manhattan Theatre Club recognized the brilliance of playwright David Auburn's story at a reading in 2000. "Proof" won a slew of awards on Broadway and became one of American theater's success stories. It is a winning work because it uses honestly drawn characters to tell the story of a common crisis - a parent's illness and death - within one unusual family.
Rather than send her mentally ill father off to a facility, daughter Catherine (Nicole Sypher) stays home to care for him. Catherine is one of the most sought-after roles for young female stage actors today, for Auburn makes her expose everything. Catherine isn't just a sister or a daughter, she is free will itself rubbed raw by her relations.
Catherine is what you find if you search the universe for intelligent life, and screen out ego, posturing and artifice. Every dent in her has been hammered in by the stop-and-start life audiences become fortunate enough to witness.
Sypher, an experienced actor making her New Century debut, simply nails the role.
This actor's heart beats out unmistakable rhythms - a tribute to the fallen genius that is her father; a war summons to her myopic sister; a halting love song to a nerdy suitor; and, above all, a metronomic anthem to her own emotional and intellectual independence.
While only in her early 20s, Catherine is at the age when a mathematician's powers have been known to peak. She watched that be so in the case of her father Robert (Steve Brady), a legendary University of Chicago professor. Age has weakened not only Robert's professional edge, but his sanity.
On this, "Proof" shares themes with Sylvia Nasar's book (and the movie) "A Beautiful Mind," about Princeton mathematician John Nash. While Brady does an exemplary job making father Robert's struggle transparent, it falls to Sypher to portray how his illness attacked not only his life and career but his family.
Though father and daughter talk a little math, this is a play more about emotion than ideas.
And it plays out not in themes but as feet-in-the-mud moments: when sister Claire (Cate Damon) arrives from New York City to try to tidy things up in the home she preferred to steer from afar; or when a young mathematician named Hal (Patrick Tangredi) comes to search the professor's notebooks for an undiscovered jewel.
He finds that jewel, then must establish whether his mentor wrote it in an unexpected run of clarity - or whether the author is someone else.
In anger, Catherine makes both Hal and Claire wither. In sorrow, she folds up into herself, disappearing like some sleight of hand beyond computation.
Damon uses grace and intelligence to create a Claire who wants more than anything else to manage her way through clutter. To Claire, Catherine is herself clutter, as she rattles around the back porch, drinking an abysmal bottle of Great Lakes champagne to mark her birthday and getting into a shoving match with cops.
Claire smoothes things over the next morning with the police and admonishes Catherine for not being able to do the same. "Well, people are nicer to you," Catherine says in a retort. In two too-short hours, we see the gulf between these sisters. Claire would like Catherine to, well, lighten up.
"This fun thing," she tells Claire severely, "is really not where my focus is."
They scramble, lose ground and try not to give up on each other.
Tangredi soars as Hal, the earnest young mathematician sentenced to a life of mediocre ideas. On opening night, Tangredi played Hal's tics and nerves without letting him become a caricature. In fact, the play overhauls preconceptions about math geeks. Claire finds out the hard way she can't keep up with them, drinking-wise, at a party.
To make the setting entirely convincing, the company invested in building the rear of a two-story house, complete with porch, designed by Daniel D. Rist. It elevates the realism wonderfully. It is to that porch that Claire staggers the morning after the party, her head throbbing.
Those close to Catherine can never be sure how they'll fare with her. When backed into a corner, Catherine emerges armed with truth and a ferocious ability to express it.
"Proof" glows with expectancy, for Catherine seems capable of everything all at once, from a Nobelist's trip to Oslo to wretched personal defeat. She may own a beautiful mind, but it's her cursed life that enchants.
"Proof" continues through Sunday in the auditorium of Northampton High School. Tickets are $20, or $18 for seniors. Call the box office at 587-3933.
Cheaters prosper at New Century
By LARRY PARNASS, Staff Writer
Thursday, July 24, 2003 -- NORTHAMPTON - Next week, New Century Theatre gives us the higher math, and thoughtful drama, of "Proof." This week, it's the polynomials of nuptials that won't quite add up, in a British comedy that uses three couples to tell the story of two halves.
"How the Other Half Loves," by Alan Ayckbourn, is the kind of device-on-its-sleeve play that elicits sniggering even as it sits on a shelf - at least from anyone with a pulse of humor. Director Jack Neary and the Northampton company's crackerjack cast work madly, and successfully, to draw all they can from this tale of a marital lie's half-life.
"How the Other Half Loves" puts two marriages in fishbowls and then lines them up so we see through both. The actors set their phasers to stun and start shooting. The laugh lines pop like hot corn; only a few fail to inflate, like a typically English mistaken identity joke about a Bloody Mary.
Ayckbourn is a loony geographer of stage space. In his play "The Norman Conquests," Ayckbourn used different rooms in a house to provide varying perspectives on its action. In his "Bedroom Farce," three bedrooms offer different views on the same action. In his "Taking Steps," performed two years ago in South Hadley, a one-level, open-sided stage is rigged imaginatively to represent three levels within a house.
Somebody get this man a blueprint!
In "How the Other Half Loves," two couples start their mornings in two homes, one toney, the other more frazzle-sleeved middle-management. From left to right, the New Century set, by Edward Check, gives us - in fourths - a slice of the classy Foster home, then a smear of the Phillips digs, then the Foster doorway and then the Phillips dining table.
With that shuffled deck dealt, the comedy begins. Bob Phillips (Buzz Roddy) is coping grumpily with morning-after questions from his wife Teresa (Cate Damon) about his carousing.
Over at the Foster home, the glamorous Fiona (Laurie Dawn) is more easily evading queries from her dodgy older husband (Harlan Baker) about her whereabouts last night. He is Bob Phillips' boss. Another employee, a hapless accountant named William Detweiler (Andrew Dolan) and his wife Mary (Laura Given Napoli) have no idea that they are the ones the lovers use as excuses.
It is a Thursday morning. As the actors stretch into their somewhat stock characters, the play ramps up to its premature big finish, a wacky collision of time and space over unmatched flatware of one dining table.
It doesn't give too much away - and surely, this is what word of mouth makes so appealing about this comedy - to say that the audience gets a simultaneous view of what happens at separate dinner parties on Thursday and Friday nights in both the Foster and Phillips homes.
As the action reaches a peak, the performers must sharply adjust their poses with each cued line, as Daniel D. Rist's lighting effects take us in a flash from one table to another and from one night to another.
Neary and his cast nailed it perfectly in the show I caught Tuesday night, particularly Damon as the wined-but-not-dined hostess. They made the difficult look easy, putting hospital corners on these unkempt beds.
Of course, a more risqu‚ author would have flipped back to what these four people were doing Wednesday night, but then, this isn't "Oh, Calcutta."
In Act II, (Saturday morning, followed a bit conventionally by Sunday morning), those two couples try to clarify or mystify the truth about infidelity - depending on whose assets are in a sling.
Baker, Dawn, Roddy and Damon fashion four characters as different as compass points, whose affairs cause neat verities of geography to collapse.
Dolan and Napoli give us two endearing and overwhelmed innocents. As Mary, Napoli has the edge that the simplest characters get in this sort of romp. She gags when sipping a martini and it's genuinely funny. She simpers when wrongly accused of having an affair and it's funny.
For that, thank the madness of the situation in this comedy - and the cast's exquisitely timed delivery. You can set your watch by this play's laughs. They're as dependable as Big Ben.
"How the Other Half Loves," directed by Jack Neary, runs through Sunday at the New Century Theatre in Northampton. Tickets are $20, $18 for seniors. Call 587-3933.
Just in case there are people in St. Thomas and the surrounding area who are not aware of what a treasure is in their midst, I want to make a comment about the Elgin Theatre Guild. On Friday I went to see their latest offering — To Forgive, Divine — and found it to be excellent.
The play is about a Catholic priest and how he relates to his parishioners, the struggles he faces, and the sometimes difficult situations he has to handle.
The five actors, Emily Beaton, Marilyn Baron, David Bogaert, Charlene Hanson and Allan Leitch, under the direction of Cliff Baron, delivered finely honed individual performances as well as inter-relating to each other in a magical way on stage. The outstanding script by Jack Neary had some of everything you want in a play — humour, pathos, tension, a good story with a satisfying conclusion.
I have been a theatre reviewer for Scene Magazine in London, for 14 years, and I see a lot of plays, from Stratford and Niagara-on-the-Lake, to Blyth and Huron Country Playhouse, and everything in between. I can honestly say that To Forgive, Divine by the Elgin Theatre Guild is as good as any professional production I have attended. Bravo!
This group is about to conclude its 35th year of operation, and the playbill for the next season starting in October is already out. I would advise everybody, whether they usually attend plays or not, to make a point of going to see something by this troupe, at the Princess Avenue Playhouse.
This is a piece I wrote which was about to be published in 1994 in Theatre Week Magazine in New York. Just before it was to go to press, the New York Times theatre critic, who figures prominently in the article, left the newspaper, making the article far less intriguing than it had been when TW signed on to publish it. A couple of references are dated, but you'll get the idea.
by Jack Neary
When my play, FIRST NIGHT, opened to a standing ovation at the Westside Theatre on September 11, 1994, a number of interviews had been scheduled for the producers and me. When the review of the play appeared in the New York Times on September 12, all interest in interviewing me ceased. Abruptly.
So I thought I’d interview myself.
JN: Well, you’ve had a play produced off-Broadway. How do you feel?
Jack: I feel like I brought my child into the living room to meet the relatives for the first time, and everybody loved the kid except Uncle Dave, who has all the money.
JN: I take that to mean the Times review wasn’t good.
Jack: The Times review wasn’t a review. It was Thursday.
JN: That doesn’t make any sense.
JN: And the critic the Times sent was...?
Jack: Clearly, the one who couldn’t get a date.
JN: You’re saying he was in a bad mood?
Jack: I’m saying, judging from the tone of his review, he hadn’t had his laptop serviced since early in the Carter administration.
JN: Do you have any idea why The New York Times sent its first-string critic to review an off-Broadway opening with no stars and an unknown playwright?
Jack: It was a Sunday. The other three guys must’ve been in church.
JN: A couple of people who read the review seemed to think the Times critic had some sort of hidden agenda.
Jack: Who knows? It was excessively vitriolic. A kind of “Hey, Look what I can do, Pop!” review. My guess is that he wants to be noticed. He has his sights set next year on moving up to being Theater Week’s 21st most powerful person in the New York theater.
JN: Were you pleased with the production of your play?
Jack: Yes and no. It was staged quite well and with great care by Tony Giordano and designed beautifully by Neil Peter Jampolis. But our rehearsal period was very short and I ended up cutting the script extensively to accommodate what seemed to be emerging, in our haste, as the through line. The play had been produced very successfully before--in Boston, San Diego, many other cities--but I wish I’d had an out-of-town tryout of this version to get it ready. Or, at least, more time in previews. The cost of any extension of our time, however, was prohibitive. Whatever the show’s shortcomings might have been, they were my responsibility.
JN: So you think the cuts contributed to the show’s failure.
Jack: I’ll never know. All I do know is that the show has been a hit everywhere it’s played for eight years. It was a different show here, and it closed. The audience that showed up was extremely receptive, but it closed. The core New York audience that supports a show in its infancy didn’t come. They were warded off by the Times. However, to be truthful, I don’t think the alterations I made in the script affected the Times critic.
JN: What do you think did affect the Times critic?
Jack: The show was full of things that are simply not welcome by the major New York critics these days.
JN: Things such as...?
Jack: Oh...funny characters saying funny things in funny ways within the context of a created situation. Sounds harmless, but this is what the major critics call, correctly, “situation comedy.” It could just as easily be called “life,” but the major critics here have given themselves license to trash it as “sitcom,” regardless of how much the audience enjoys it. The gentleman writing for New York Magazine labeled the people who laughed in the FIRST NIGHT audience as those who “will laugh at anything.” Outrageously insulting. I know if I’m one of the many people who laughed a lot during a performance of FIRST NIGHT, I’m thinking twice about reading New York Magazine again. Which probably doesn’t bother the critic.
JN: Sounds a little like sour grapes on your part.
Jack: Well...duh. Of course it’s sour grapes on my part. But I’m reacting after seeing how the major reviews affected FIRST NIGHT. I believe, however, that the major critics walked into the show with their personal grapes already well-soured towards a sweet, traditional, non-musical romantic comedy. (Tapping and singing often helps them overcome the prejudice.) You want the truth--in the case of FIRST NIGHT, I think the major critics reviewed the poster.
JN: You continually refer to the “major” critics.
Jack: The two or three top guys who can make a difference. FIRST NIGHT garnered a number of good notices, some great quotes. Meant little in terms of establishing a run. Everybody wants to know what the Times thinks. Maybe New York Magazine. That’s it. It’s a shame, really. If folks had responded to the New York Post, Newsday, many of the newspapers and magazines with less influence than the Times, then we might still be running. But that’s not the way things are. The perception may be that the Times is less influential these days in terms of the power it holds over the life of a show, but my experience, at least, reflects otherwise. The summary of the Times notice that appears weekly in the Arts and Leisure section is like teenage acne. It doesn’t go away until the play has matured into a “Long Running Show.” A show won’t run long if the A & L summary attacks it Sunday after Sunday.
JN: So, what advice would you give a new playwright hoping to get a play produced successfully in New York?
Jack: Funny how nobody asks me that anymore.
JN: Is a puzzlement.
Jack: If you want to ensure yourself of a hit, schedule your opening, call the New York Times, find out who’s going to review, read all the notices he’s written in the past, determine what he likes, then re-write the play specifically for him. If possible, name a character after him. A good-looking, sympathetic character.
JN: That’s ridiculous. What about the audience?
Jack: If he likes it, they will come.
JN: But then they’ll like it only if they have his specific taste.
JN: What will that mean?
Jack: That will mean they’ll show up initially in droves, most of them will hate the play, and eventually a great many of them will stop coming to the theatre.
JN: But then the New York theatre will be in desperate trouble. Prices for the few shows left will soar. Only very rich people and couples celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversaries will come to plays. Basia and Lambchop will get their own theatres while other theatres will be dark year-round. People who want to see a Broadway play will come to town and be bitterly disappointed!
Jack: Oh, don’t worry about that. Broadway will always have Neil Simon...
The Lyric Stage Company of Boston production
Review Quote Sheet
From the BOSTON GLOBE (Ellen Pfeifer, 1/7/2003)
“BEYOND BELIEF is a poignant, playful mix of sex and religion.”
“Alternately hilarious, preposterous and tragic…”
“With three outstanding actresses in the roles of Gert, Alma and Marjorie, Neary’s clever dialogue and skewed wit pack the maximum punch.”
“(Colton) breaks everyone’s heart when, in the final playlet, she recounts in excruciating detail her personal bereavement as the results of a priest’s sexual transgressions…This vignette and Colton’s haunting performance take the breath away.”
“Neary should craft a few more porch scenes for the three ladies—certainly there is plenty of sexual absurdity out there to keep the trio baffled to the end of their days.”
From the BOSTON HERALD (Robert Nesti, 1/7/03)
“Jack Neary’s crowd-pleasing look at Catholicism.”
“The writing is…effective, largely due to the deeply touching performance of Colton as a woman wrestling with a long-hidden secret.”
“This entertainment shrewdly, if coyly, lampoons Catholics’ repressed attitudes about sexuality.”
“Neary’s direction is sharp throughout, and he has found an ideal trio of local actresses for his Golden Girls: Steinbach bakes a delightfully tart Gert, McMahon is a master of the deadpan expression as Marjorie, and Colton brings pathos to what easily could have been the most stereotypical character.”
From the LOWELL SUN (Nancye Tuttle, 1/8/03)
“BEYOND BELIEF: Faith can be fun.”
“SECRETS, which deals with priestly celibacy and the issues facing the church today, steps back from the comedy and offers a one-two dramatic punch as Alma shares her family’s secrets with her friends in a stirring, thought-provoking climax.”
“They play it for laughs and get plenty…But in the end it is the poignant ‘why and how did it happen?’ question that reverberates through BEYOND BELIEF, proving once again Neary’s ability to elicit serious reflection through the laughter and tears.”
From the INDEPENDENT REVIEW (Jason Fitzgerald, January 2003)
“It was only a matter of time before the current crisis in the Catholic Church found expression in the theater, so it is no surprise that the Catholic-themed show now making its world premiere at the Lyric Stage Co., Beyond Belief, places the abuse scandal in the heart of its climactic last scene. What is surprising is what playwright Jack Neary does for the first hour and a half. As the curtain rises we are presented with the perfect comedic formula: Three old ladies (á la The Golden Girls) on a front porch in a Boston suburb, all of them strictly Catholic, and all of them talking about sex. Beyond Belief is a laugh-riot, as the three women try to explain to each other just what President Clinton claims he didn't do with that "Polish secretary," or why the "homeless sexuals" want a community center of their own. Although their conversations do not make up the entire show—a pair of comic vignettes provides variety, if not a whole lot else—the show is entirely theirs, much to the credit of actresses Ellen Colton, Cheryl McMahon, and Bobbie Steinbach. The image of these three old women reading the newspapers and struggling to comprehend the state of the world around them is the perfect metaphor for a Church whose tragic flaw is that it is of another time. It must fight to maintain its dignity and relevance amidst ever-changing value systems it was never designed to handle. When "The Issue," as Neary calls it in his liner notes, is finally discussed, we realize that the consequences of that struggle are not always cute, not always comic, but sometimes unfathomably tragic. It is a good time for a show like Beyond Belief. It should be praised for being a piece of real entertainment that, before it lets us go, has the power to ask: What are we really laughing at?”
From THEATRE NEW ENGLAND.COM (Larry Blumsack), January 2003
“Boston's Off-Broadway scene continues to showcase top local professional acting talent. This time it is the Lyric Stage Company's world premiere of playwright/director Jack Neary's often exceptional comedy, "Beyond Belief or Catholics are People too!"
Neary the playwright clearly has a gift for creating endearing characters and brilliant, riotous, acerbic, comedic dialogue. His three porch sitting, matronly Catholic ladies uproariously attempt to make sense of a new and vastly more complex society that openly discusses oral sex (Clinton/Lewinsky style), the alternative lifestyles of "homeless sexuals" and lesbians, ménage a trois and papal-blessed pedophilia.
Neary the director's world premier production at the Lyric Stage plays every note written into his script with a trio of wonderful actresses who will bring you to side splitting laughter and heart tugging empathy. Bobby Steinbach (Gert) with the best dialogue in the playlets is the gritty, snappy, smug, has-the-answer-or-definition-for-everything, worldly explainer of all types of sex. Ellen Colton (Alma) is the "I just don't get", dithering, early stage of dementia, pupil of all this new sex. Cheryl McMahon (Marjorie) is the quiet "we don't/shouldn't talk about that", literal definer of terms and protector of Alma.
The evening consists of six playlets, four of which feature our porch-sitting Catholic Ladies ménage a trois openly and hilariously bantering sexual issues that were verboten 50 years ago. One could call the evening "The Catechism of Sex Education of Alma". Alma is the "straight (man) person" of this trio of comics in every sense of the term both theatrical and literal. Her pure innocence is playwright Neary's perfect foil for all his parodies and for his very poignant and dramatic conclusion of the evening. Alma turns the tables when she educates Gert and Marjorie on church-condoned pedophilia. It is an extremely powerful scene that could be even more powerful if Alma's apparent lucidity was less abrupt.
Neary has created a perfect mix for his cutting laceration of blind-faith, religious conservatism. The four Gert, Alma, Marjorie playlets showcase some of the best comedy/parody writing, direction and performances I've experienced in my 40+ years in the theatre.
From NEWBURY STREET REVIEW (January, 2003)
The Lyric Stage Company of Boston presents
Beyond Belief or Catholics are People too!
What would the Vatican say?
Beyond Belief: Bobbie Steinbach, Ellen Colton & Cheryl McMahon
Photo by Sheila Ferrini
Beyond Beliefis the latest offering in the 2002-2003 Lyric Stage Company of Boston theatre season. Written and directed by Jack Neary who directed the very successful 2001-2002 production of Lend Me a Tenor, Neary brings his great comic skills back to the Boston stage with a world premiere on the subject of being Catholic.
This conglomeration of playlets includes three of the funniest "seniors" I’ve seen on stage in a long time. Gert, played by Bobbie Steinbach, is hysterical with her unmistakable Boston accent as she starts trouble asking the questions Catholics are not suppose to ask. Ellen Colton, is superb as the naïve and innocent Alma who finds it interesting that a group of "homeless-sexual" people want to start a shelter. "They’re not homeless-sexual," Gert explains, "they’re homosexual!"
Cheryl McMahon skillfully plays Majorie who accepts life as a Catholic should and definitely doesn’t want to explain anything to Alma. These three characters are found on the porch where they discuss hot topics including oral sex and how that relates to President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, priestly celibacy, Lesbians and Gays and menàge á trois. The ladies are blunt, funny and this audience couldn’t get enough of them.
There was an extraordinary chemistry with these three characters and the audience wanted much more.
Bravo to Lyric Stage Company of Boston for taking chances on new theatre works. Fine performances and excellent direction makes this an event not to be missed.
From AISLE SAY (Will Stackman, January, 2003)
“What Neary has done, to the best of his considerable ability, is raise the question of how the Catholic laity views sex, in the face of the rote instruction from "repressed virgins." The show has no answers. Clearly saying you're sorry isn't enough--even if you really mean it. But it might be a start. It will be interesting to see what theatres, professional or community, pick up this script.”
Wednesday, January 08, 2003 - 9:31:10 AM MST
'Beyond Belief': Faith can be fun
By NANCYE TUTTLE
Theater review: Beyond Belief, or Catholics Are People, Too, Lyric Stage Company, Boston, Sunday. Through Feb. 1.
BOSTON Lowell-born and bred playwright Jack Neary has made a name for himself in the region, and across the country, for writing clever comedies that have fun with Catholicism, but never in a mean-spirited way.
Neary's latest endeavor, a compilation of six witty playlets lumped under the umbrella title Beyond Belief, or Catholics Are People, Too, is now in its world premiere, which he has also directed, at the Lyric Stage, a lovely little theater in the YMCA building on Clarendon Street.
Originally titled Sex and Catholics, the plays feature a half dozen comical characters confronting sex in its many, often unfathomable, forms.
The best segments are the four playlets featuring three comical Catholic ladies in their twilight years. They sit on Alma's porch across from the church, which in the opening description is easily imagined as Neary's South Lowell home in Sacred Heart parish.
Between watching the goings-on across the street in the parking lot, they read their newspaper (The Sun, in fact), while candidly and comically discussing Monica Lewinsky, alternative lifestyles, mnage trois and the painful Big Issue now facing the Catholic church.
Gert is worldly wise and played to comic perfection by Bobbie Steinbach although she looks a tad young in that auburn wig.
In "Oral Report" Gert expertly explains to addled, naive Alma, poignantly portrayed by Ellen Colton, what happened between Clinton and Lewinsky. She is aided by Marjorie, less obtrusive but no less knowledgeable and played sympathetically by Cheryl McMahon.
Their explanations and Alma's befuddlement continue in "Alternative Lifestyle," a chipper look at what Alma calls "homeless sexuals."
"Three-peat" deals with what Billy Gallagher, his girlfriend from the IRS and that lady who drives the Jeep just might be up to in the house bequeathed to him by his deceased mother.
"Secrets," which deals with priestly celibacy and the issues facing the church today, steps back from the comedy and offers a one-two dramatic punch as Alma shares her family's secrets with her friends in a stirring, eloquent, thought-provoking climax.
The other skits, "Catholic Man" and "Santa's Holiday Confession," are funny, with good comic turns from newcomers Lindsay Joy and Christopher Loftus and Lyric regular Robert Saoud as a sexy Santa. But the playlets are shallow compared to the scintillating chatter the little ladies invoke.
They play it for laughs and got plenty from Sunday's appreciative full house. But in the end, it is the poignant "why and how did it happen?" question that reverberates through Beyond Belief, proving once again Neary's ability to elicit serious reflection through the laughter and tears.
Tickets are $22-$38 and are available by calling 617-437-7172.
ARTS & CULTURE
Actresses transcend material in look at all things Catholic
by Robert Nesti
Tuesday, January 7, 2003
``Beyond Belief, or Catholics Are People Too!'' by Jack Neary, presented by the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, 140 Clarendon St., through Feb. 1.
Gert, Alma and Marjorie are the ``Golden Girls'' - Boston style. They are the best thing about ``Beyond Belief, or Catholics Are People Too!'' Jack Neary's crowd-pleasing look at Catholicism is having its world premiere by the Lyric Stage Company of Boston.
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In a series of sketches, these retirees spend their days sitting on Alma's front porch, where they discuss a variety of sexually related topics, from President Clinton's indiscretions to ramifications of the recent crisis in the church.
Some may remember the trio from the 1999 Boston Theater Marathon of Ten-Minute Plays, where they were enthusiastically received in a playlet called ``Oral Report,'' in which they discussed Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky. That sketch opens this piece.
As in the formulaic writing of television sitcoms, each reverts to type: Gert (Bobbie Steinbach) is the no-nonsense one, Alma (Ellen Colton) is dimwitted and Marjorie (Cheryl McMahon) is practical. The comedy largely comes from Gert's sharp one-liners and Alma's naivete on sexual matters.
That is, until the final scene. In his short program notes, Neary says it would be impossible to write a play about Catholics without addressing the recent crisis, and he takes on the controversy by examining how the sensitive subject of pedophilia affects the lives of these three women.
Though the writing may seem shameless in the way it manipulates the audience to get a particular emotional response, it is nevertheless effective, largely due to the deeply touching performance of Colton as a woman wrestling with a long-hidden secret. As the memories strip away her defenses, Colton gives her character a depth of feeling unrealized in the broad and repetitive skits that came before. Here, the three women feel part of a play that Neary has yet to fully realize, and the actresses rise to a level that transcends the material itself.
Otherwise, though, this entertainment shrewdly, if coyly, lampoons Catholics' repressed attitudes about sexuality.
In addition to these women arguing about homosexuality and the meaning of the term ``menage a trois,'' there is a skit about a randy young man whose sexual drive is stilled when he becomes ``Catholic Man,'' a superhero who believes in chastity (amongst other virtues).
There's also a skit in which Santa Claus visits a confessional to seek forgiveness for having ``sinned'' with a cookie-bearing mom on Christmas Eve.
In these skits, performers Lindsay Joy, Christopher Loftus and Robert Saoud are right on target.
Neary's direction is sharp throughout, and he has found an ideal trio of local actresses for his Golden Girls: Steinbach makes a delightfully tart Gert, McMahon is master of the deadpan expression as Marjorie, and Colton brings pathos to what easily could have been the most stereotypical character.
The Lyric Stage Company of Boston presents ``Beyond Belief'' through Feb. 1.
'Beyond Belief' is a poignant, playful mix of sex and religion
By Ellen Pfeifer, Globe Correspondent, 1/7/2003
Walking into the Lyric Stage theater these days, an audience member is sweetly seduced by the piped-in voice of Bing Crosby gliding through the pitches of ''Swing on a Star'' or ''Pistol-Packin' Mama.'' Even before the show begins, the great crooner transports the listener back to a more innocent era when love, sex, and religion were a lot simpler and a lot more complexly incendiary.
It is this era - say, 40 to 50 years ago - that shaped the morals, the expectations, the naivete of the three elderly Catholic women who are the anchoring characters of Jack Neary's ''Beyond Belief or Catholics Are People Too.'' The world premiere of the evening-length suite of six playlets opened this weekend at the Lyric Stage with Neary directing the production.
Unsettlingly disjunct, alternately hilarious, preposterous, and tragic, the show began as a single brief sketch written for the inaugural Boston Theater Marathon of 10-minute plays in 1999. That playlet was so successful that Neary was encouraged to write another for the 2000 marathon. Eventually, he wrote four pieces in which the three porch-sitting seniors confront the realities of sex at the turn of the millennium. To these, he added two much weaker pieces that involve different characters and situations still wedded to the theme of ''Sex and Catholics'' (which was the show's original title).
With three outstanding actresses in the roles of Gert, Alma, and Marjorie, Neary's clever dialogue and skewed wit pack the maximum punch. In each of their playlets, the ladies take on such incomprehensible (to them) subjects as oral sex, homosexuality, menages a trois, and the scandal of sexual abuse by priests. Bobbie Steinbach, as Gert, is the most worldly of the three, and she particularly relishes shocking her friends. When Cheryl McMahon, as Marjorie, declines to explain to Alma the logistics of sex for three, Steinbach's Gert gets a wicked gleam in her eye and a little malicious smile on her face. ''I'll tell,'' she says.
If the raspy-voiced Steinbach gets some of the juiciest lines and biggest laughs, Ellen Colton's sweetly dithery Alma cracks up the audience with her Alzheimer's-induced malapropisms (she thinks homosexuals are ''homeless sexuals,'' and lesbians a theater group). But Alma also breaks everyone's heart when, in the final playlet, she recounts in excruciating detail her personal bereavement as the result of a priest's sexual transgressions. Coming at the end of a show that has heretofore been funny to the point of silliness, this vignette and Colton's haunting performance take the breath away.
The other playlets never achieve the same level of wit or poignancy. ''Catholic Man'' finds protagonist Paul (Christopher Loftus) hypnotically induced to believe he is a religious superhero (the ''Lion of Lent,'' the ''Keeper of Christmas,'' humble, enduring, and celibate) and what happens when he encounters a nubile young woman, Francie (Lindsay Joy). In ''Santa's Holiday Confession,'' a priest (Loftus) confronts a most improbable couple of sinners - Santa Claus (Robert Saoud) and Natalie (Joy), the ''mouth-watering mother'' and oatmeal-cookie baker with whom the ''jolly old elf'' has dallied while delivering the Christmas toys. These scenes, plus a musical interlude for Saoud (a not-so-funny reworking of the old novelty song about how love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage), seem like filler. Perhaps Neary should craft a few more porch scenes for the three ladies - certainly there is plenty of sexual absurdity out there to keep the trio baffled to the end of their days.
Beyond Belief or Catholics Are People Too
Written and directed by Jack Neary
A production of the Lyric Stage Company of Boston
Sets, Janie E. Howland. Lights, Christopher Ostrom; Costumes, Gail Astrid Buckley
At: the Lyric Stage, 140 Clarendon St., Boston through Feb. 1.
Tickets: 617-437-7172 or at www.lyricstage.com
This story ran on page E4 of the Boston Globe on 1/7/2003.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.
MetroWest Daily E-News
Lenny at Large: No topic off limits at the Lyric
By Lenny Megliola
Thursday, January 2, 2003
It's 1999, and Jack Neary's mom is kibitzing with two of her cronies. The hot topic is Bill Clinton's sordid affair with Monica Lewinsky. Later, mom tells son, "Mrs. O'Malley just explained oral sex to Mrs. O'Neill."
That little revelation, says playwright Neary, "sort of triggered the whole thing." Neary sat down and knocked off a quickie play entitled "Oral Report" (original title: "Sex and Catholics") which was performed at the inaugural Boston Theatre Marathon of Boston Ten-Minute Plays at Boston Playwrights Theatre. Neary's play centered around three ladies on the front porch shooting the breeze, ever so bluntly (and humorously). The work was well-received. "So when the 2000 (Boston Theatre) Marathon came along, I put the three ladies on the front porch again and gave them a new topic with the same category. Sex."
Eventually, Neary had six Catholic-oriented shorties which led to a full-length play. And tomorrow night it opens at The Lyric Stage Company of Boston, but with the Catholic church reeling from scandal, Neary's original "Sex and Catholics" title has been softened to "Beyond Belief."
Neary, a Lowell resident, describes the play as "three innocent elderly women sitting talking about anything." Was Neary shocked the first time he heard about his mom's chats with her friends? "No, that's the whole point," says Neary. "It's not outrageous. It can be discussed." Subjects such as priestly celibacy and how Catholics define "menage a trois" come up in Neary's work.
Although he says he's "on the fence" with the original title, "Sex and Catholics," the Lyric's producing artistic director Spiro Veloudos "was kind of concerned," says Neary. "But he's probably right. The (public's) reaction probably wouldn't have been right. We don't need that kind of reaction."
And yet Neary says the last leg of the play, called "Secrets," addresses "the hot (church) issues right now." The play is pulled off, says Neary, who's also directing, with "a cast from heaven": Ellen Colton, Cheryl McMahon, Robert Saoud, Bobbie Steinbach, Lindsay Joy and Chris Loftus.
Neary directed the Lyric's "Lend Me A Tenor" last season. The Clarendon Street space, with its intimate stage and seats for just 244, suits him fine. "I love it, it's great." Neary has staged his own adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" at Worcester's Foothills Theatre, where he has also directed six other plays including one of his own, "Jerry Finnegan's Sister." His "First Night" was produced off-Broadway. It had a two-month run at the West Side Theater. Then came a New York Times review. "The Time's did (the play) in," says Neary. "Maybe (the critic) had a bad night. Then he quit he paper two weeks later."
Neary's theater life began on the boards. "I started out as an actor in college and community theater. He earned a degree in acting from Smith College and later ran a summer theater at Mount Holyoke. "I did a lot of directing before I wrote anything," says Neary. "I feel comfortable directing my own works."
Neary has about a dozen plays "out there" that he's trying to get staged. He's looking for the big breakthrough. Could "Beyond Belief" be the ticket?
"Who the hell knows," says Neary. But he adds, "I have a lot of faith in audiences. They'll get it."
Neary is single. "I'm too busy (to get married)," he says. He sees a lot of movies and is "an inveterate Red Sox fan. I've lived and died with them since I was 9 years old."
Now he directs his own plays, and lives or dies every opening night. Or at least until the reviews come in.
Tickets for "Beyond Belief," which runs Jan. 3 through Feb. 1, are $22-$38. The Lyric Stage Company is located at 140 Clarendon St., Boston. Call 617-437-7172 for box office tickets Wednesday through Saturday noon to showtime. Tickets can be also purchased online at www.lyricstage.com.
Thursday, November 07, 2002 - 8:00:58 AM MST
Peter Bubriski and Rachel Harker star in the Worcester Foothills Theatre production of 'Dial M For Murder.' (PHOTO COURTESY WORCESTER FOOTHILLS THEATRE / BOB DOLAN)
All hung up Worcester Foothills Theatre presents a workman-like 'Dial 'M' For Murder'
By Ken Cleveland
WORCESTER -- The air is thick with murder as ex tennis pro Tony Wendice (Peter Bubriski) plots to murder his wife. The motive is a time-tested one: money.
The Worcester Foothills Theatre performance of "Dial 'M' for Murder" is a fair presentation of the Frederick Knott play, with Jack Neary directing.
It suffers from a couple minor flaws, namely a bit of overacting by Bubriski and the sometimes-distracting Jimmy Stewart mannerisms of Peter Motson as Max Halliday, as the former lover who has returned to England as Margot Wendice (Rachel Harker) fights to keep the illusion of her marriage alive.
Not bad weaknesses for a play that leads the audience through the complexity of the murder plot with ease.
The play requires the audience to go along with the assumption that the murder plot would work, and then that the failure of the plot brings an entirely new - and for Tony Wendice, an acceptable result. It shows that the business of murder, while dirty, is also unpredictable.
For Margot Wendice, the devoted wife, it could be the end. Of course, in a murder mystery, it is difficult to give too much detail, lest too much be given away.
This small production (compared to the massive cast of "Ragtime" in October), is a concise little mystery that can engage the audience in the intricacies of the plot. After the stunning production of "Ragtime," any play would pale by comparison.
The actors do their jobs well, with Barry Press as Captain Lesgate, Buzz Roddy as Inspector Hubbard and Bob Dolan as Thompson rounding out the cast.
"Dial 'M' for Murder" runs through Nov. 24. For ticket information, call (508) 754-4018.
'Dial M' connects on first try
Tuesday, November 5, 2002
By Paul Kolas
TELEGRAM & GAZETTE REVIEWER
DIAL M FOR MURDER; by Frederick Knott, directed by Jack Neary. At Foothills Theatre, Worcester Common Outlets, 100 Front Street, Suite 137, Worcester. Performances at 2 and 8 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 4 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays; and 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 24 (no 7 p.m. performance Nov. 24). Tickets: $23.50 to $29. Student tickets available. Call (508) 754-4018 for reservations.
With Peter Bubriski, Rachel Harker, Peter Motson, Barry M. Press, Buzz Roddy and Bob Dolan.
WORCESTER-- “Dial M for Murder,” which was given an elegant and stylish opening by the Foothills Theatre Company on Sunday, isn't so much a whodunit as a will-he-get-away-with-it.
The pleasure isn't shrouded in conventional mystery but unraveled in the clever, surprising details and missteps that accrue along the way over a quietly gripping two hours.
Before the actors even step onstage, we are afforded a mood-enhancing pastiche of Bernard Herrmann's great music scores from classic Alfred Hitchcock films such as “Vertigo” and in one crucial scene, the screeching strings from “Psycho.”
Adding to the sense of Hitchcockian deja vu is Peter Motson's often uncanny Jimmy Stewart mannerisms and vocal inflections. Motson plays Max Halliday, a TV crime writer with a most active imagination who has had an affair with the lovely and wealthy Margot Wendice (Rachel Harker), who in turn is married to an ex-tennis pro, Tony.
Tony Wendice is almost a villain you can root for, devious but charming and charismatic to the core. He's been plotting to kill his wife for over a year, knowing of his wife's recent affair, and blackmails an old college chum with a shady past, Captain Lesgate, alias C.A. Swan, into performing the deed for a thousand pounds.
Peter Bubriski throws himself into the role of Tony with ferocious cunning, constantly straining to keep one step ahead of all the ways his meticulously constructed plan can go awry. When it does and he's forced to go from Plan A to Plan B, there's a comic edge to Bubriski's performance that finely complements the conventional tensions that normally inhabit the mystery thriller genre.
Director Jack Neary seems to have mined all he can of the playful, droll humor in Frederick Knott's drama -- including Max's suggestion to Tony in Act 3 that mirrors his original murder plan.
Inspector Hubbard is one of those mildly patronizing, but fastidiously intrepid British bloodhounds assigned to the case, and Buzz Roddy does him full justice, reminding this viewer at least of Alex McCowen's memorable Chief Inspector Oxford in Hitchcock's “Frenzy.” Just when you think he's missed a clue along the way, he has been piecing it all together -- as the satisfying finale proves.
Harker invests the role of the wife in peril with patrician flair and grace, someone who is more resourceful and observant than she's ultimately given credit for by her nefarious husband. Barry M. Press is quite effective as Swan, the college mate who figures into Tony's murder plans in a very unfortunate manner.
The one-room set is well appointed, thanks to the discerning eye of Ken Goldstein, matched by Nicole Watson Oehling's refined costume design. Finally, praise goes to Edward Thurber for that wonderfully evocative Herrmann music.
Tuesday, November 5, 2002
ARTS & CULTURE
MetroWest Daily E-News
Foothills rings up a hit with `Dial `M' for Murder'
By David Brooks Andrews / Correspondent
Thursday, November 7, 2002
As we grow more sophisticated as audiences, it becomes harder for stage thrillers to make us feel that delicious sense of suspense, as if we are children willing to abandon our disbelief for an evening.
The Worcester Foothills Theatre regularly includes a thriller in their season, but they've come up with one of their best in a long while in Frederick Knott's "Dial `M' for Murder." The play originally opened in New York City in 1952 and was made into a popular motion picture in 1954 starring Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, and Robert Cummings.
The story avoids feeling dated by refusing to follow an obvious formula. Instead it keeps us guessing from the very beginning as to where it's headed, if you haven't seen the film version recently or don't remember it in detail.
Under Jack Neary's superb direction (he's a local playwright whose work is often produced by Foothills), the production makes hay of the period elements by handling them with great polish and drawing obvious links to some of Hitchcock's more famous thrillers. While part of the pleasure of this show is its suspense, there's also plenty of enjoyment in how the conventions of the genre are handled.
When the play opens, Margot and Tony Wendice are being visited in their well-appointed London apartment by the American Max Halliday, her former lover. She's convinced that her husband is unaware of the relationship she's had with Max.
Tony is a former tennis star, who was successful enough to develop a name but not successful enough to become wealthy at it. Part of that no doubt has to do with the era, when sports stars received much more modest incomes. And so his wife's money is of interest to him. Peter Bubriski in the role of Tony is one of the real draws of the show as he exudes just the right degree of sophisticated British glibness and manipulation, while keeping things moving with a great sense of pace and timing.
We know there are lots of things hidden beneath his surface, which is underscored by the quickness with which he drops his facade-one moment graciously helping Max into a dinner jacket and the next moment, when he's alone, throwing the jacket, literally, into the next room.
Rachel Harker plays Margot as a lovely woman who's glad to see her former lover, but who makes it clear that she's now committed to her husband. Harker goes for a pleasant neutrality, until the action picks up, and she's truly believable at portraying the disheveled terror of having undergone a very harrowing experience indeed, while adding a sexy bedroom touch. She has nice proper London accent.
Peter Motson plays Max Halliday, a writer of television thrillers, with a clear hint of Jimmy Stewart, both in his voice and mannerisms, without overdoing it. It's a conscious wink at a film like "Rear Window" while conveying the sense of a man who seems to be unaware of Tony's evil plans, but whose underlying intelligence and decency should not be dismissed.
When Tony sends his wife and Max off to the theater one evening, he lures over a Captain Lesgate to assist him in making plans to murder his wife. This scene is one of the more delightful in the play, and Barry Press as Captain Lesgate makes terrific adjustments as he's exposed.
At one point, while talking theoretically, the writer Max assures Tony that "in real life murders don't turn out as they do on paper." We realize this fact is at the very heart of the story. Things obviously will not turn out as Tony plans.
There are many exciting moments and intricate details to the play, which for the sake of suspense are best left unmentioned. Suffice it to say that Buzz Roddy brings a charming meat-and-potatoes (or should we say shepherd's-pie-and-boiled-peas) practicality to Inspector Hubbard as he probes to determine exactly what has happened.
In some ways, the first two acts are the most satisfying as they set up the suspense and cause us to fall in love with the characters, both as people and as reminders of movie stars from a bygone era. The final act feels a little more conventional as it unravels the mystery and dangles clues in front of us.
Ken Goldstein's elegant recreation of a 1950s London apartment, with built-in cabinets, chandelier, and fireplace is the Foothills at their scenic best and very much helps to set the mood.
The crispness of the performances and freshness of the story make this a delightful evening for anyone who enjoys a good thriller or, for that matter, anyone who believes thrillers don't have much pleasure to offer.
"Dial `M' for Murder" runs through Nov. 24 at the Worcester Foothills Theatre, Worcester Common Outlets, 100 Front Street, Worcester. Tickets range from $23.50 to $29 and can be purchased by calling 508-754-4018.
This is an article I wrote for the January, 1996 issue of Dramatics Magazine.
Anatomy of a Laugh
by Jack Neary
"This is it!"
This line is spoken by the character of Brian as the climactic moment approaches in my play, JERRY FINNEGAN'S SISTER. It has proven to be the biggest laugh-getter in the show. Almost invariably, the audience responds with a huge guffaw, followed immediately by applause. In my mind, it's probably the most effective laugh line I've ever written.
But is it foolproof? Not on your life.
Three little words. One mammoth laugh. But so many elements must come together to make the line work, to elicit the appropriate response. On his deathbed, a famous actor (some say Edmund Gwenn, others say Edmund Kean, nobody really knows) uttered these last words: "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard." If any director ever tells you otherwise, run and hide. Or find a new director.
"Comedy can't be hard," you say. "My friend Eddie gets laughs all the time just by snorting milk out through his nose in the cafeteria." Oh, yeah? Well, let's see Eddie get a laugh on "This is it!" Here's what it takes.
First, Eddie has to be able to act, which means he has to be able to make the audience believe that he is the character created by the playwright in the context of the situation created in the play. He has to understand what the playwright means to convey to the audience at this moment, and throughout the play, and he has to clearly depict this meaning for the audience. Easier said than done.
He must be aware of everything that's at stake in the play, at that moment. He must believe it, and deliver the line precisely the way the character, Brian, who happens to be a human being, would say it in real life. He must also be aware of the stake the audience has in the character, and in what the character says, at that moment. In and of itself, "This is it!" is not funny. If the actor playing Brian isn't aware of the significance of the line, and how much the audience is depending on him to deliver it properly, then what usually happens is...nothing. The moment is lost. Beyond that, if the director simply tells the young actor that it's an important moment, but the young actor doesn't really understand it, then the actor tends to over-act. He tends to make funny faces. He tends to DO something rather than live in the moment. He imposes significance on the moment. And the moment dies. When an audience member is told, by an unholy grimace, or by an actor dropping his pants (in anything but an all-out farce), that he or she is supposed to laugh, laughing is the last thing that audience member will do. What gets the laugh is the truth of the moment, complemented by the audience's recognition of that truth, not any imposition of truth. There is no such thing.
Still, only three little words we're dealing with. "This is it!"
Okay, so let's say Eddie can act. Let's say Eddie is the next Olivier. What else has to happen to achieve the biggest response to the line?
Conspiracy. No actor gets a laugh all by him or herself. Other conspirators are involved. Let's assume that the playwright has done the job. The line is true and funny. Period. Now we must trust that the director is as aware of all the elements of the comic moment as the actor, and that the staging of the moment isn't sabotaged. This is probably a good time to put "This is it!" into context.
In JERRY FINNEGAN'S SISTER, Brian has spent the entire play trying to get up the nerve to ask Beth, the girl next door, out on a date. Simple premise. The two actors play the characters at various ages, from seven through twenty-three, reliving moments in their lives wherein Brian has constantly made a fool of himself in Beth's presence, never reaching the point where he would ask her out. As the play nears the end, the two characters are on the phone to each other:
BETH: I think this is it, fella.
BRIAN: This is it?
BETH: I think your best friend has set you up, and I think this is your chance and I think you'd better grab it.
BRIAN: You mean Jerry lied to me to...
BETH: To get you to call me, yes.
BRIAN: And he thought that if I was mad enough I'd tell you...
BETH: Finally tell me...
BRIAN: Finally tell you...
BETH: Say it, Brian! Say it!
BRIAN: (instantly panicked; to audience) This is it!
How can a director sabotage a moment when a laugh is supposed to happen? Easy. The director can misdirect the focus. The actor with the punch line may be sitting when it'd be better for him to be on his feet. Or another actor may be directed to cross the stage while the punch line is being delivered. (This is not a hard and fast rule, but it's as close to hard and fast as you'll get: It is best to NOT move, or have anybody else move around you, when you're delivering a laugh line. Audiences are incredibly impressionable. Their eyes will go where the action is, and if there's action, the line will suffer. Sometimes you can get away with moving on a joke line, but it's rare.)
In any case, the moment must be staged to accommodate the joke. Let's assume the director has done this. Who else besides the actual line-deliverer and the director is involved in the conspiracy?
Well, the other actor or actors onstage, of course. In the case of JFS, it's the actress playing Beth. "This is it!" means nothing if Beth doesn't let us know clearly just what the it that is is! So she must be as good an actor, and as deft a comedian, as Eddie. I mean, who sets up the actual joke?
BETH: I think...this is it, fella.
Beth does. And who explains why the moment is so crucial?
BETH: I think your best friend has set you up and I think this is your chance and I think you'd better grab it.
Beth does. Not only that, in this last line, she is responsible for a joke of her own. "...I think you'd better grab it." also gets a good laugh. The actress must deliver the line cleanly, and button the joke. Buttoning a joke means "telling" the audience that the time has come for them to laugh. They are aware of the humor of the moment, they feel it, they want to laugh, but they don't want to miss anything. So it's up to the actor(s) to subtly let the audience know that NOW is the time to laugh. Sometimes stage movement does this. Sitting down sharply at the end of a line, slamming down a phone, closing a door--you get the idea. In this case, though, with the scene ongoing, the button must be much more subtle. The actress must clearly put a period on the line. The inflection in her voice must have a sharp finality to it. It must say to the audience "Now. Laugh." If she does it correctly, they will.
But we're still not there. We're only halfway through the sequence leading to the huge laugh on "This is it!" Now it's Eddie's turn to pick up the ball. And the first thing he has to do after Beth's line is...
Wait. For the laugh. I mean, what's the point of talking onstage if nobody can hear you? If Beth gets the laugh on "grab it," then it's up to Eddie, playing Brian, to hold the moment, sustain his concentration, and wait it out. Then, when the laugh hits its peak, he gears up, and as soon as the laugh begins to die down, as soon as he's sure he can be heard, he delivers the next line:
BRIAN: You mean, Jerry lied to me to...
Which is extraordinarily important. In the context of the play, we MUST hear that Jerry lied to Brian (about Beth getting married) which prompted Brian to make the call. If Eddie delivers this line while the audience is laughing, then the moment is unclear. Sure, it's implied in Beth's line, but at this stage of the game, the audience wants clarity. Brian's line provides this, and it is crucial to the sequence. So Eddie waits, and delivers his line.
Then, something visceral takes over in the bodies of the two actors. They both know the big payoff line is coming, so each line becomes terribly vital to the build. The energy of each line tops the energy of the previous line. The lines don't get louder, they don't get more vocally colorful, they just take on more and more vitality and significance. If this were a movie, there'd be driving music in the background. The actors must sense this music, and they must make the audience feel this music.
They must also be in complete control of their bodies and their voices. Each syllable is crucial. One stumble, one muffed word could jeopardize the upcoming joke. If the playwright is in the audience, he or she is in white-knuckled fear that one of the actors will flub. Everything that's uttered from now through the joke line is of monumental importance. Finally, we reach the top of the mountain.
BETH: Say it, Brian! Say it!
BRIAN: This is it!
I must admit, I cheated as a playwright here. In most cases, it's probably better to not italicize a word in the script. In most cases, it's probably better to let the actor and the director fiddle with the emphasis until they find what's right for their production. But I didn't want to risk this. I know that the emphasis MUST be placed on the "is." Anyplace else--on the "This" or on the "it" and the joke fails. So if Eddie, as Brian, plays the emphasis given him in the script, and if he has achieved all the other necessary elements leading up to the line, then he probably gets the laugh.
So it's over, right?
Not yet. There's one more conspirator involved, and it's the conspirator the actor and the director have the least control over.
It's the audience.
I can't tell you how deflating it is for a playwright to stand in the back of the house, watching a sequence like the one above played to perfection, all the way to the punch line, and then to hear an audience member cough on the line, or on one of the set up lines. Or to hear an audience member open one of those little candy wrappers during the sequence. The moment is so desperately delicate. I wish there was a way to forewarn audience members about laugh lines, so that they'd be sure not to cough or open candy wrappers during the lines, but that, of course, would eliminate the element of surprise from the joke, and that would be deadly. Some theatres provide wrapper-less candies in their lobby for patrons, which is nice. It gently tells the audience that wrapper noise is annoying. But there's no way to tell an audience member he or she can't cough. And--be warned--if an audience member has one cough in him for the night, it's going to happen on the best joke in the play. Guaranteed.
But that's out of our control. What we have in our control is the technique which helps us get the most out of a well-written laugh line in a play. It doesn't come easily. Many actors have to perform in a number of comedies before the technique begins to sink in. Others have it naturally, and these are the comic actors we enjoy watching most.
Because when we watch them, we're not watching comedians acting, we're watching actors doing comedy.
The following is an article from the Winter, 2002 Marquee newsletter published by StageSource in Boston. It is edited by Kate Kelly.
E-FORUM (with Boston-area playwrights RUSSELL LEES and JACK NEARY)
Please tell our readers a little bit about yourself and where we may have seen your work.
Russell Lees: I'm originally from Salt Lake City, where my father was the entire theatre department at a small liberal arts college. Boston audiences may have seen my work at Boston Playwrights Theatre, Merrimack Rep or Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre. I occasionally direct as well and was lucky to direct The Silver Coast at Boston Playwrights with some of Boston's best actors. I also directed ImprovBoston for a year or so in the early 90's.
Jack Neary: I've been working in theatre since the mid-seventies, as an actor, director, producer and playwright. I've been Artistic Director of the Summer Theatre at Mount Holyoke College, and I co-founded New Century Theatre in Northampton. My plays have been produced all over the country, including locally at the MRT, the Foothills Theatre, Theatre Lobby, and many community theatres. My plays FIRST NIGHT, TO FORGIVE, DIVINE and JERRY FINNEGAN'S SISTER might be recognizable to a few folks.
How did you become a part of the Boston Theatre Community?
RL: I landed here by chance and started taking classes in directing and playwrighting at Harvard Extension School from David Wheeler and Kate Snodgrass. Kate encouraged me to apply for Derek Walcott's playwriting program at BU and there you have it.
JN: By being born and raised in Lowell, and by pretty much staying close by, even though I've done a couple of stints in New York and in western Massachusetts.
Where do you find the most support as a playwright?
RL: It's a lonely, lonely job. Kate Snodgrass and the resources at Boston Playwrights have been a big support.
JN: Interesting question. I think I find the most support from my audience and my friends in the business. Yes, I have a couple of agents, and my work gets done relatively frequently, but the reason I'm still writing (without having scored that one big mega-blast success that those of us who do this crave) is because when I write a joke the audience laughs, and my friends encourage me to write more. I think some (not all) literary managers and dramaturgs find their noses tilting upwards in pain when they read scripts about non-dysfunctional people who happen to be funny. They call it "TV" and chuck it in the out-basket. I know, this makes me sound whiny, but I've always found literary managers and dramaturgs far more accessible after they've seen my stuff in front of an audience. And it's tough to get my stuff in front of an audience without the support of literary managers and dramaturgs who "get it" when they read it. Survival, then, becomes a bit of a challenge.
What was the first theatre piece you ever had produced? First piece in this area?
RL: My first play, Monday Night Football, was produced in a 70 seat theatre in Salt Lake City many, many years ago. It was back when it was hip to have lots of foul language and drug use on stage, and I actually did get some people to walk out. My first local production was The Case of the Blue Narcissus at Boston Playwrights in 1992. Cyndi Freeman, who's gone on to fame with her one-woman shows, was featured in that production.
JN: My very first play was called THE THICKEST PLOT and it was produced at Smith College when I was a graduate student there. My play FIRST NIGHT was produced in one-act form at a festival at the Foothills Theatre in Worcester in 1985, featuring Mark Cartier, Donna Asali, and directed by Nancy Kindelan, all Boston theatre veterans.
What do you think about the concept that one must go to New York to be taken seriously as a theatre professional?
RL: It's certainly not true for playwrights. It may be that to be taken seriously, a playwright needs a New York production at some point, but there's no big advantage to actually living there.
JN: Well, it depends on the individual professional's definition of being taken seriously. Of course, anyone can be taken seriously anywhere if he or she is serious and is willing to be taken. However, my experience as a writer is that you can have all the plays you want published and produced, but until one script is given the NYC imprimatur, it remains an uphill struggle. This is not a hard and fast rule, but it's harder and faster than most rules I know.
How do you feel about the efforts made to produce new works in the local theatre community?
RL: There's quite a bit of activity in support of new works in this town. A local playwright who's determined has opportunities at the venues at the BCA, Centastage, Boston Playwrights, and other places as well. It also seems like local audience interest in new works is finally growing. I think the tricky bit in Boston is that, once you get a production in a smallish space, what do you do then? There's no clear path to getting other productions or to moving a production to a larger, more commercial space. I've always thought that it would be of enormous benefit if some of the local companies who produce new work were able to develop relationships with off-off-Broadway companies. In this way, successful local productions and plays would have some path to the greater exposure of a New York production.
JN: Unfortunately, I've not taken advantage of the seemingly growing opportunities being made available by some of the local theatres. I've tended to introduce my new plays in western Massachusetts theatres where I've worked for many years. I have, however, been very fortunate to have been part of the Boston Theater Marathon of ten-minute plays every year so far, and I find it an exhilarating experience. I don't know how many writers have been approached by producers and artistic directors who have seen work at the Marathon, but it seems to me to be a great place for A.D.s to find local playwrights they might want to work with, and perhaps even commission. There's always the possibility that the new sentimental two-character romantic comedy commissioned will make a big splash and pay a sponsoring theatre's rent for many years to come. End of commercial.
What are your thoughts on the Boston Theatre Marathon? Have you ever seen anything like it anywhere else?
RL: It's unique. Other places have 10-minute play evenings and the like, but as far as I know, a play marathon that brings together a city's entire theatre community in all its reaches exists nowhere else.
JN: See above.
Do you get to see much local theatre?
RL: I do get to pretty much local theatre. I like theatre in small venues, and have lots of friends involved in productions at Boston Playwrights. I live in the building that houses the Threshold Theatre, which often has good productions. Also, I can walk from my place to the BCA in about 20 minutes, so I go there a lot. I get to the Peabody House in Somerville with some regularity as well.
JN: Not as much as I should. And I apologize.
Do you have a "wish list" of services or opportunities that you think might be realistic in Boston with some help (from StageSource or anyone else)?
RL: You know, I really don't.
JN: Not really. I think StageSource has already contributed greatly to the dialogue. Bottom line, though, is that writers have to write and hope that producers and artistic directors continue to allow the occasional non-NYC-ordained piece to be born in Boston. I know it does happen, and I trust it will happen even more often. I also trust that the traditional script, the well-made-play as it's been called, will not dismissed out of hand without serious consideration. Just because a play has a beginning, a middle and an end, and a few good jokes, and nobody dies or has cancer or is a serial killer, doesn't mean it's not worth putting in front of an audience.
Russell Lees’ play NIXON’S NIXON will be performed at the Huntington Theatre Company March 1 - March 31, 2002.
Jack Neary will direct LEND ME A TENOR for the Lyric Stage Company of Boston with performances running April 19 - May 18, 2002.
Tuesday December 2, 2003
"Christmas Carol' sings
By Paul Kolas
TELEGRAM & GAZETTE REVIEWER
A CHRISTMAS CAROL
Written by Charles Dickens, adapted by Jack Neary, musical arrangements by Jim Rice and Fred Frabotta, special material contributed by Guy Jones. Performances at 2 and 8 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 4 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays; and 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 28 at Foothills Theatre Company, Worcester Common Outlets mall, 100 Front St., Worcester. Tickets $29.50-$35.
With John Davin, Wil Darcangelo, Dawn Tucker, Cory Scott, Shana Carr, Michael G. Dell'Orto, Kevin Brooks, Carol Gallagher, Stephanie Carlson, Colleen Kelley, Andy Rhodes, Steve Gagliastro, Lisa Frechette, Bill Taylor, T.J. Hudspeth, Zachary Smits, Heather Lattuca, Robert Deters, Nicholas Schur, Randy Marquis, Connor Lee, Jake Wetherbee, Meredith Ryer, Gina Lirange, Nathaniel Vilandre and Ben Picard.
WORCESTER- As Foothills' visually rich and textually revised production of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" proved on Sunday afternoon, there seems to be no end to the number of dramatic permutations that this seasonal classic can provide. Jack Neary and Guy Jones have mined the story of the world's most famous miser for a somewhat darker social context without losing its wit, humor and redemptive bonhomie.
As the Ghost of Christmas Past (smoothly played by Carol Gallagher) shows us, the origin of Scrooge's intractable and flinty nature can be traced back to the death of his mother, who caught the "chill" from her young, unwitting son. Unforgiven and unloved by his bitter father, his battered adoration is directed toward his beloved sister, Fan, who, in turn, dies in childbirth.
Now the aging Ebenezer is the unforgiving one, refusing his nephew's annual invitations to share Christmas with his family. The love of his life, Belle, has been replaced by his surrogate love of money. What we have here is a textbook example of Victorian dysfunction, with therapy to be administered by the ghosts of Jacob Marley and Christmas Past, Present and Future.
The playwriting changes are most certainly welcome, as they add depth and resonance to an already entertaining, tuneful and instructive moral fable.
Some things, gratefully, don't need to be tampered with, among them Wil Darcangelo's warmhearted turn as Bob Cratchit, Stephanie Carlson's poignant rendering of Belle, Colleen Kelley's riotous volley as Scrooge's chambermaid, Gladys, and Kevin Brooks' supremely benevolent Ghost of Christmas Past.
As brightly as they shine, however, the crown jewel is the return of the formidable John Davin to the role and character he can conjure up with the ease of a spirit showing him the shadows of his past, present and future life.
If anything, his Scrooge is more indelible than ever, spewing vitriol with sadistic pleasure, pointing an accusatory finger with the speed and timing of a cobra, snarling his quarry into silent submission, burping over perceived indigestion. Davin makes the transforming journey of Scrooge a wholly organic one on the strength of his pulsating confidence.
One shares in his joyous (and prankish) spiritual rebirth as he plays on the conditioned responses of Bob Cratchit, nephew Fred, and the townspeople. It's a pleasure to watch an actor with his talent enjoy himself so much, a contagion that happily infects the rest of the cast. Cory Scott wins our empathy as Fred in his resolve to wear down his uncle's blighted exterior and wring out the lost soul within, even when he's mimicking him at a party.
Shana Carr exudes a formal grace and beauty as Fred's wife, Dorothy. Michael G. Dell'Orto is a booming blunderbuss as Jacob Marley, lashing out at his former business partner with unbridled fury and portent. Dawn Tucker (Mrs. Cratchit), Andy Rhodes (Fezziwig), Bill Taylor (Old Joe), Lisa Frechette (Mrs. Fezziwig), Steve Gagliastro (Scrooge's father), T.J. Hudspeth (Gwendolyn), Heather Lattuca (Martha Cratchit), and the cast of young adults and children (Nicolas Schur as Tiny Tim has a well-timed laugh at Scrooge's expense) all contribute effectively to the ensemble.
Equally impressive are the creative efforts of music director Fred Frabotta, who bridges the main narrative with some sweetly sung carols, Wil Darcangelo's spirited choreography, Kurt Hultgren's wonderfully muted pastel costuming, Ed Thurber's evocative sound design, and Laura McPherson's scenic touches, which turn the set into a living Christmas card.
Jack Neary has fashioned a charmer once again.
Jack Neary puts his own spin on 'A Christmas Carol'
Sunday, November 24, 2002
By Richard Duckett
Telegram & Gazette Staff
'A Christmas Carol'
When: Previews 8 p.m. Friday, and 4 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday; official opening, 2 p.m. Dec. 1; regular run, Dec. 5 through 29.
Where: Worcester Foothills Theatre Company, Worcester Common Outlets, Worcester.
How Much: $29 to $32, depending on performance. Box office, (508) 754-4018.
'A Christmas Carol” ... now, who the Dickens wrote that?
Why, Jack Neary, of course.
Well, that is the answer when it comes to who is the author of the new Worcester Foothills Theatre adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic that opens for previews Friday (the official opening is 2 p.m. next Sunday) and runs though Dec. 29.
Neary, a Lowell-based playwright, director and actor, wasn't about to pen a total rewrite of the tale when Foothills artistic director Brad Kenney approached him about creating an adaptation. In other words, Scrooge won't take it with him, Bob Cratchit isn't on welfare, and Tiny Tim doesn't really die. Instead, in true Dickens spirit, Tim does say “God bless us, one and all.”
Nevertheless, the adapter did want to put his own spin on matters,
“It's a pretty traditional representation with a few things we haven't seen before,” Neary said during an interview before the start of a recent rehearsal.
“I just tried to make it my own without risking making it too different from other versions.”
When Michael Walker was artistic director of Foothills in 2000 he wrote his own theatrical adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” with the hope of having the Dickens story an annual holiday season happening at the theater.
Kenney, who succeeded Walker last year, kept Walker's play for 2001, but added some more colorful background and musical flourishes.
However, Kenney had already talked to Neary about a new version of the story for Foothills, and Neary was formally commissioned to write the piece this past summer.
Neary is no stranger to Foothills. A one-act play competition put on by Foothills in 1985 helped give him the inspiration and impetus to write. “First Night,” about former parochial school classmates who rediscover each other one New Year's Eve after a lapse of many years, was one of the winners of “New Voices at the Family Table,” a competition designed to encourage new playwrights.
Neary went on to have success with a full-length version of “First Night,” and has now written more than 30 plays, several which have been and still are performed commercially. Neary stayed on with Foothills for a couple of years after “First Night,” and directed “Biloxi Blues” there in 1987. But then there was a long break which ended in 2000 when Neary returned to Foothills to direct his own play, “Jerry Finnegan's Sister.”
Since then, “I haven't left the joint,” Neary said.
He has directed about half a dozen plays at Foothills, including “Dial 'M' for Murder,” which concludes its run at 2 p.m. today. Additionally, he's written several original plays for children that Foothills has staged.
“I've really become part of the family, I hope. It's a nice place to work,” he said.
But there is also life beyond Foothills. Another new play by Neary, “Beyond Belief,” will be produced early next year by the Lyric Stage in Boston.
First things first, however.
Neary's adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” includes music by another Foothills veteran, Jim Rice, and several major musical sequences. Since Foothills invested a lot of money on impressive looking Victorian costumes and sets for the previous two productions of “A Christmas Carol,” Neary's version was expected to utilize what was already in the theater's vaults. Other than that he had a free hand, but Dickens and reality helped shape the way of the play.
Neary said he did not work with Walker's version. “You know what? I didn't read it at all. I decided it would be best to go back to the source.”
So Neary began his first draft with Dickens' book in front of him.
“I followed the track of the novel,” he said.
“There are eight million adaptations of 'A Christmas Carol.' What you find out is that so many people are accustomed to it you can't stray too far if you want to be successful.”
Nevertheless, in writing the speeches, “I took some of the things you expect, but I gave it some humor. A little bit of a spin. An extra edge so that people won't say 'Oh yeah, I'm back to the “Christmas Carol” I expect.' ”
Neary is directing the Foothills show, something that helps in getting the length of the production “family friendly.” Anything longer than two hours would be unfriendly in his view.
“If it comes in longer we will address it. You can make these decisions right in the rehearsal hall,” he said.
The first day of rehearsals in the rehearsal hall was the first read-through of Neary's adaptation.
“It was the first time I had ever heard the play read,” he said.
The production calls for a large cast -- more than 40 actors, including three groups of 20 children who will appear in alternate shows.
According to sources, when the first read-through had been completed, everyone burst into applause to praise Neary's work.
His response was in character -- low key and modest. “The sound of laughter for the first time was kind of exciting,” he said.
As for the applause?
“That's always good. I think sometimes it's just polite, but this time it sounded genuine.”
Neary said he has read Dickens' “A Christmas Carol” a number of times. “It's just great to be able to work with the material and experience the atmosphere the writing presents,” he said. So as he adapted the play, he said, he did feel Dickens' timeless message of compassion and spiritual renewal.
Nevertheless, “More than the writing, the atmosphere doesn't really come to life until you get into the rehearsal room,” Neary observed.
“Now it's in the mouths and minds of the actors it's really coming to life.”
The proof of this Christmas pudding will remain in the eating. But Neary was sounding optimistic about his and Dickens' creation. “Four or five days into rehearsal, things are coming to life. Things are looking good,” he said. “So far, I'm happy.”