Voices of BTM XXIII: Jack Neary

Jack NearyTell us a little about your play.

Kick the Tires, Alma features three characters created over 20 years ago, for the very first BTM. (I can’t do the math, so somebody figure out the year.) Back then, the play was called Oral Report and the actors, under the direction of Adam Zahler (for I think, maybe New Rep?) were Kate Carney, Patricia Till, and Alice Duffy. The ladies were so well received, I brought them back for a second year and I directed Kate, Alice, and Mary Klug for New Century Theatre in Alternative Lifestyle. Then I reprised the characters in Three-Peat. Subsequently, while I was working for Spiro directing Lend Me a Tenor at the Lyric, a show from his upcoming season fell through and he asked me if I had a full-length he could consider as a replacement. I said sure. He said, What is it? I said, Sex and Catholics. He said I can’t do a show called Sex and Catholics. I said, How about if I change the title? He said, Lemme read it. He did, and for the show I put together the three Marathon plays, a couple of other sketches, and one much longer, much more serious playlet for the three ladies, now played by Bobbie Steinbach, Ellen Colton, and Cheryl McMahon, directed by me, and that became Beyond Belief and even the Globe liked it. (Is this what you meant about “tell me a little about your play” Alexa?)

From there, Belief was produced by New Century Theatre at Stage West. I tossed out the extra sketches, invented husbands (John Davin and Richard Snee) for the ladies, strengthened the narrative, replaced the always busy Bobbie with Marina Re, and added a Narrator. As I watched it at Stage West, I could see that I didn’t need the Narrator (played by the wonderful Andy Dolan), and by the time the play appeared at the erstwhile Stoneham Theatre, with Sheridan Thomas in the Bobbie role, it was titled The Porch. Now Bobbie’s back with the band, and here we are. And… scene.

What made you want to tell this story?

See above. Also, in terms of the characters’ origin—when my mother was alive, she and Mrs. O’Neill and Mrs. Lally used to sit out on the O’Neill porch and shoot the breeze watching the Sacred Heart Parish roll by. One day, I visited my mother. She came in from the O’Neill porch and said, very simply, “Mrs. Lally just explained oral sex to Mrs. O’Neill.” I said to myself, “I can get ten-minutes out of that,” and that became Oral Report. A monster was created.

What interests you in the ten-minute format?

I love the challenge of getting to the point. With laughs. I don’t know if I could (or would want to) write something completely serious in the ten-minute format. Frankly, I don’t know how some of the writers do it. Maybe it’s because I’m such a smartass, I can’t go more than a half page without writing a joke, I don’t know. For my ten-minute plays, I usually come up with an ending, or a closing line, that I shoot for, and when you know you have only nine pages to get to that ending or closing line, you get to the point very fast.

What are the particular challenges to writing for (or adapting to) Zoom? Are there benefits to working in this medium? Were there any surprises along the way?

I’ve overseen plays of mine written for the stage scrunched into the Zoom format, and while it’s good to get the work in front of an audience, I’m not a big fan of the scrunching aspect of the whole thing. More recently, I’ve written a couple of plays specifically for the Zoom format. We performed the first of these, The Gathering, for Acting Out Productions a few months ago and it went quite well. Kick the Tires, Alma is my second Zoom-specific play. For each of these, I acknowledge the pandemic in the story and that justifies, to me, the Zoom specificity. I look forward to getting out of the Brady Bunch boxes, though, and back onstage. I really do.

What’s next for you as a playwright (or producer, actor, student, teacher, etc.)?

What’s next for me as a playwright is to get my second Pfizer dose (March 30, so it’s a done deal by the time this appears), and return to my home away from home, the Barnes and Noble café in Manchester, NH, where I sit pretty much every late afternoon for a few hours and write. I wrote almost all of my play Trick or Treat there, and of all the things I’ve missed during the plague, this has been one of the most significantly missed. Beyond that, there is fingers-crossed hope at the moment for a production of my play First Night at the Deertrees Theatre in Maine in early July, and then at the new Park Theatre in Jaffrey, NH later in the season. Also, the Players’ Ring in Portsmouth plans to produce my brand new script, Moonglow, to close its 30th Anniversary season in June of 2022. I’ll direct. Also working on The Jester of Camelot, a play with music about ’60s comedy icon Vaughn Meader, which I’m writing with Andy Dolan, and The Stands, a new play about Little League moms dealing with their kids and one harrowing incident. In the meantime, I write and market and market and write. Oh, and fret. I have made fretting an art.

Boston Theater Marathon XXIII: Special Zoom Edition runs Monday-Saturday at 12 noon ET and concludes May 28 with Jack Neary’s Kick the Tires, Alma! More