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.