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.