KPBS AIRDATE: DECEMBER 15, 2000
It’s 10:30, New Year’s Eve. First Night, as they say in New England. Danny Fleming is getting ready to close up the video store for the year. And then, out of the snow — actually, out of the blue — in walks Meredith O’Connor.
It’s been 20 years. He has obsessed about her since 8th grade. Dreamed about her, Had a fantasy family with her. And now, here she is, in the flesh. And for the next two hours, we’re on the edge of our seats, wondering, ‘Will the loser get the nun?’ She’s doing the ultimate Catholic guilt-trip — telling him she’s divorcing God to be with him.
It’s a long, predictable evening. Cute, a little silly, occasionally funny. But there aren’t too many twists and turns, not too many surprising or thought-provoking moments. A cute skit; not really enough to sustain an evening of theater.
Playwright Jack Neary, supposedly called the Catholic Neil Simon, really isn’t. He sure can’t do the guffaw-a-minute gag-lines that characterized Simon’s early work. But he does paint a colorful picture of Catholic angst, neurosis and guilt. It doesn’t hold a candle to the likes of Woody Allen, but it tries.
Neary treads the safe and narrow path. There was one second, though, right at the end, when he nearly had me. I thought he was actually going to take a hairpin turn, and it almost broke my heart. If this had all been just another dream, I really would’ve cared about poor, pathetic Danny. But no. This is a guy who just about orgasms from “It’s a Wonderful Life” — I’m talking about the character and the playwright. The piece is just that kind of holiday confection — maybe a little too sweet and sticky, but it goes down easily.
Manuel Fernandez, making his directing debut, has done a fine job, and his actors serve him well. Jessa Watson is adorable, but how a pathologically shy teen turned into this aggressive, petulant postulant is the only true mystery of the evening. Patrick McBride is mostly adorable, and generally credible, though he has the thankless and annoying job of frequently breaking the fourth wall and talking to the audience. Plus, he seems to have far too much energy and personality for the nerdy former fat-boy who still thinks everyone’s gonna laugh at him. Neary nails that insecurity, and also the ‘What If?’ nature of life and first love. Designer Marty Burnett has also nailed the video store stetting. The play does make you think back to your own seminal milk-break at school. Your first hormonal stirrings. Your ‘whatever happened to…? wonderings. And if that’s enough for you, then, hey, it’s a wonderful life.
©2000 Patté Productions Inc.