BWW Reviews: Gloucester Stage Toasts AULD LANG SYNE
Written by Jack Neary, Directed by Douglas Lockwood; Set Design, J. Michael Griggs; Costume Design, Molly H. Trainer; Lighting Design, Russ Swift; Props Master, Tom Rash; Stage Manager, Tareena Wimbish
CAST: Paula Plum, Richard Snee
Performances through July 27 at Gloucester Stage Company, 267 East Main Street, Gloucester, MA; Box Office 978-281-4433 or www.gloucesterstage.com
There is a famous poem written in 1948 about two ace pitchers for the Boston Braves which boiled down to "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain," the implication being that those hurlers carried the team through the pennant race and into the World Series, eventually losing to the Cleveland Indians in six games. With apologies to Boston Post scribe/poet Gerald Hern, I'd like to adapt the aphorism to "Plum and Snee bring out the comedy," giving the venerable acting tandem props for eliciting the laughs that are deserved by their dysfunctional characters in Auld Lang Syne. Jack Neary's newest play, now in its Boston area premiere at the Gloucester Stage Company, is billed as a "comedy thriller" which is "part mystery, part drama, and part comedy," but the three parts are not conveyed with equal mastery in the script, leaving gaps which Plum and Snee must leap across in good faith.
The two-hander takes place in the present in the living room of an old house in South Boston on New Year's Eve. Retired school teacher Mary (Plum) calls Joe (Snee) on his "business line" to come to her assistance. A neighborhood lowlife, he has certain expectations about what she wants from him when he shows up at her door on a cold, snowy night, but his assumptions are way off base. The misunderstanding is fodder for their conversation and comic underpinning for the first act. During their negotiations, she proves to be a clever ditz and he a practiced, long-suffering male, a combination which seems to point in the direction of a standoff.
While it seems that they have little in common besides their South Boston roots and a barely-remembered shared childhood experience, Neary constructs these two lonely people from similar molds. Their lives have not turned out as expected and, despite their differences, they are connected on some deep human level that makes them interesting subjects for the audience. Although they are married in real life, Plum and Snee convince us that they don't know each other as Mary and Joe explore each other's psyches and get to know one another. They offer a master class in peeling back the layers, revealing bits and pieces of their personalities almost imperceptibly in the course of their entertaining verbal exchanges.
Auld Lang Syne benefits from Director Douglas Lockwood also being a longtime collaborator with Plum and Snee. He establishes a comfortable pace, speeding things up to create some excitement and slowing things down when the time comes for the drama to unfold. Lockwood and the actors seemed undaunted by a monkey wrench thrown into the works when Plum suffered an eye injury the day before the official opening and it was necessary for her to wear an eye patch during the performance. Fortunately, she was able to navigate the one room set by designer J. Michael Griggs without incident and nothing in her costume by designer Molly H. Trainer (sweater, slacks, and sensible shoes) could trip her up.
As I see it, the problem with the play is the lack of an adequate bridge from the consistently amusing repartee to the introduction of Plum's character's dramatic back story. That the actress is capable of turning on a dime from one emotion to another does not make up for the sudden incongruous shift in the play's tone. Snee's role is to listen and be empathic when she describes the tragedy which befell her family, but Neary doesn't provide much of a foundation for this lowlife henchman to stand on, to play the caring mensch, as it were. Up to this point, he presents as the water boy for bigger thugs, a fatalist who gets by by taking orders and being a wise guy. Joe's dramatic arc feels manufactured for the sake of creating danger, to fill the slot in the play designated for "thriller," but the end result is a tidy plot resolution which severely challenges the suspension of disbelief.
Auld Lang Syne had its World Premiere in 2012 by the Peterborough Players in New Hampshire and was subsequently produced by New Century Theatre at Smith College in Northampton. It is more than halfway to being a worthy entry into the genre of comedy thrillers, but the transition into the drama has to feel more organic and the thrill quotient needs to be ratcheted up. Plum and Snee have the versatility for all of the components, but it is up to Neary to provide a booster injection of mystery.
Photo credit: Gary Ng (Richard Snee, Paula Plum)