note: entire contents copyright 2014 by Sheila Barth
Award-winning husband-wife actors Richard Snee and Paula Plum could be reading a grocery list or starring in a stirring Shakespearean tragedy. It doesn’t matter. Anything this fabulous couple appears in, especially together, is bound to be outstanding entertainment. In Jack Neary’s newest two-act, two-person comic thriller, “Auld Lang Syne,” Lynn native Plum and Snee have such cosmic timing and dynamic acting chops, every scene of this contemporary play, set in South Boston, is a treat.
Just ask Director Douglas Lockwood. Working with Plum and Snee is pure joy for the actor-director and founding member of the Actors’ Shakespeare Project, who has his own long list of area, national and out-of-country theatrical accomplishments. Lockwood adds his special touches here, while the production’s startling stage effects at times jar theatergoers from comic complacency to satiric shock. Careening vehicles light up the darkened stage, and resounding gunshots reverberate through the theater during a thrilling scene in the second act.
Neary’s tale about a lonely, retired schoolteacher’s very strange, deadly business proposal to her former elementary bad-boy classmate-turned Southie rumored killer on New Year’s Eve is engrossing. Neary infuses more twist and turns than Boston’s one-way streets, but you don’t get lost negotiating the plot. Plum especially had performing challenges during the Sunday, July 13th matinee performance. The day before, she badly injured her left eye while trimming some flowering bushes in her garden, and appeared on stage wearing a large eye patch. Luckily, she didn’t damage her cornea, she said, but the pain and awkwardness of maneuvering around the stage in her demanding role as Mary (Sweeney) Antonelli, with only partial vision, was a challenge,which she met with aplomb. Her timing was terrific, her every move spot on.
Then too, with a co-star like Snee, their off-stage marriage and obvious pride in each other doesn’t hurt. The theatrical standout duo keeps theatergoers on the edge of their seats, through every twist of Neary’s provocative play, which at times, seems implausible. But Plum and Snee convince us it’s realistic - that characters like almost 65-year-old, ne’er-do-well Joe LaCedra, and highly-principaled, fastidious researching, middle school teacher Mary, indeed, do exist. Their conversational exchanges of crossed ideologies behind closed doors at times flip-flop, as Joe tries to convince Mary he isn’t the big, bad neighborhood criminal she imagines he is.
While Joe explains to Mary he’s really a screw-up, and a “64-year-old errand boy” for very bad people, Mary refuses to be convinced otherwise. He says he scares people into paying their debts to the mob, without inflicting pain or injury to them. But Mary says Joe’s the man to do the unthinkable task she conjured up for him, and refuses to be dissuaded, despite his protestations. In fact, Mary, in her brown cardigan and bright pink slippers, can be downright Machiavellian!
No, I won’t reveal what Mary wants. During their back-and-forth arguments, though, her stubborn insistence and Joe’s flashes of integrity are enlightening.
Joe’s down on his luck, though. He was laid off from his job with the Department of Public Works 15 years ago. He caught his wife sleeping with his lawyer. His three grown-up kids refuse to acknowledge him because of his previous alcoholism.
He lives in a motel, alone, and is about to make his big break with the “mob”, by proving himself, so he can “move up” with the big guys and make real money. But Mary thwarts that. Her New Year’s Eve midnight deadline is non-negotiable, she insists.
The play ends ironically, without tying up all last-minute details, but Snee and Plum leave no question about the final outcome.
BOX INFO: Boston-area premiere of Jack Neary’s two-act, two-person, new comedy thriller, appearing to July 27, at Gloucester Stage Company’s Gorton Theatre, 267 East Main St., Gloucester. Some strong adult language. Showtimes:July 23-26, at 8 p.m.; matinees, July 26, at 3 p.m.; July 27, at 4 p.m. Tickets:$40; students, seniors, $35. Call 978-281-4433 or visit www.gloucesterstage.com.