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.