Local playwright Jack Neary always captures the frisson of nostalgia and resentment familiar to Catholic school graduates of a certain era, teasing gently without ever offending.
Auld Lang Syne, written by Jack Neary. Directed by Douglas Lockwood. At Gloucester Stage Company, Gloucester, MA, through July 27.
By Terry Byrne
Watching Paula Plum and Richard Snee go through their paces at the Gloucester Stage Company represents an opportunity to witness two masters at the top of their game. Jack Neary’s comedy/thriller Auld Lang Syne does not live up to the talents of these players, but Plum and Snee are so believable that they manage to overcome the script’s weaknesses and make us feel we are truly in a South Boston living room on a snowy New Year’s Eve.
Auld Lang Syne explores familiar Neary turf: a reunion of schoolmates of a certain age, whose Catholic upbringing permeates their world view in amusing ways. Mary Antonelli (Plum), a widow, has made a desperate call to Joe LaCedra (Snee), a man she hasn’t seen since in 50 years who, she learns during Mass, is someone who can help her with a problem that must be solved before midnight.
Neary always captures the frisson of nostalgia and resentment familiar to Catholic school graduates of a certain era, teasing gently without ever offending. Plum personifies the sheltered, retired middle-school teacher who creates the impression she’s never left Southie, while Snee easily assumes the mantle of a tough guy who shed that part of his heritage long ago.
With their identities quickly established, Neary toys with the situation, and his rapid-fire dialogue in the opening scene has the feeling of Abbott and Costello’s hilariously confusing “Who’s on First?” sketch. Here, Joe tries to figure out exactly what Mary wants while she avoids answering him directly. Plum and Snee parry adroitly, with their body language and exquisite sense of comic timing adding greatly to the sport. Just watching Plum’s expressions and reactions and Snee’s brilliant use of a pause, a long look, or a slow turn are sublime.
While Auld Lang Syne is set up as a thriller, and Neary’s ending is a satisfying surprise, the script feels padded. As brilliant as the execution of the dialogue is, it can be frustrating because the conversations tend to move in circular directions rather than building to a revelatory crescendo.
Director Douglas Lockwood efficiently paces the action and moves his actors fluidly around J. Michael Griggs’ simple set, but honestly, Plum and Snee are so transparent, they could be sitting in chairs with scripts in hand and we would still be utterly convinced of their characters.
Terry Byrne has been writing about the arts for nearly two decades. She has an MFA in Playwriting from Boston University and is a Resident Scholar at Brandeis University’s Women’s Studies Research Center.