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.