by Jeannie Marlin Woods
MOONGLOW is an amusing comedy by Jack Neary, which opened October 26th at the Majestic Theater in West Springfield, Massachusetts. This charming love story is set in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1967 with flashbacks to the 1940s. Neary is no stranger to the Majestic, whose audiences have enjoyed his plays, First Night, Jerry Finnegan’s Sister, and The Porch. In addition to writing, Neary also directs the cast of six.
The play opens with our leading character Ray, who is a middle-aged Band Director at a Catholic school. Ray can best be described as “hapless.” That is to say he is a sweet-natured but somber soul who has seen life pass him by. As the story unfolds, we learn why. When the school secretary, Arlene, endeavors to reveal her romantic feelings for Ray, it forces Ray to divulge a secret that has kept his emotional life on hold. In time we meet Ray’s ex-wife, Clancy, who married him just before he was shipped out to the Front in World War II and who leaves Ray immediately after he gets home almost 18 months later. As Ray’s life falls apart, he consults with his Priest, Father Hackett, who has been his life-long religious advisor. Back in the present day he struggles to teach his most untalented student, Dorothy, while fending off the advances of Dorothy’s brassy mom, Linda.
Neary’s play is entertaining and often humorous, but he takes his time getting us to the story we want to see – finding a way for Ray to move on with his life. The first act is overly long and needs tightening up. Even so, there is very clever dialogue and some excellent comic lines and bits. The best moments come in Act Two when Ray is finally able to express his long-suppressed feelings and the actors capture the truth of the moment.
The MOONGLOW cast is a strong ensemble. B. Brian Argotsinger manages to make the sad-sack Ray into a person we really care about. Ray’s better qualities are revealed in the scenes with his wife and Linda and Arlene, who both crave his attention. Argotsinger gives a sensitive portray of the gentleness and quiet resolve of a man who takes his faith and feelings seriously. Stephanie Carlson is remarkable and a delight to watch as the lovelorn Arlene. She is not only a romantic, but clearly the best friend Ray has in his life and we long for her to get past his emotional armor and touch his heart. Carlson brings a maturity to the role as well as excellent comic timing. Rand Forester, as Father Hackett, is most effective and annoying as an irascible religious advisor locked into the past when the world is changing around him. Linda and her daughter Dorothy are played with relish and gusto by Margaret Reilly Streeter and Nora Streeter. Nora’s Dorothy is an intelligent, conniving and funny 11-year-old whose brashness is a carbon copy of her audacious and nervy mom, Linda.
But it is Stephanie Craven, who presents such a lovely and nuanced interpretation of Ray’s former wife, Clancy, who steals the show. The arc of this character, from a vivacious girl who jumps into marriage at too young an age, to the newly-widowed woman we see 22 years later, is lovely to behold and Clancy doesn’t miss a beat in portraying that character’s truth. Her speech to Ray in Act Two is worth the price of admission. She brings a delicate and touching warmth as she tells him what he needs to hear. That scene leads us to the heartwarming conclusion of this engaging little play.
One would like to have had more moments with such truth and finesse. This is especially needed in Act One where unclear motivations and too heavy a hand at the comic bits harmed the emotional arc of the play. As noted, Neary did double duty as playwright and director. It might have been better to have had a director who could team up with Neary to pull it all together stylistically.
Nevertheless, the performances were really fine and are well-supported by the design team. The setting of the play is a challenge for the Majestic space – requiring three locations and jumps backwards and forwards in time. Daniel D. Rist’s set is workable enough, although the playscript and design did not clearly tell us if we were in Ray’s apartment or at the school. That was hard to figure out. The costumes by Dawn McKay were outstanding – especially the stylish clothing and hairstyles of the women. Whereas Ray was appropriately a tad shabby or careless in his ill-fitting clothes, the women (in both the 1940s and 1960s) were clearly characterized by the beautiful period fashions.
In the final analysis, MOONGLOW is a crowd pleaser. It delighted its audience on opening night and as the cast settles into its long run, I have no doubt that it will continue to evolve and provide great entertainment to the Majestic spectators. And just one final note – this theatre company makes its audience feel right at home. Not only can you get a cup of coffee or cookie at the concessions stand, there are sandwiches and lots of other goodies and a very nice wine bar. There is a gift shop and tasteful fall décor. All this shows a respect for the audience and a love of the theatre that is a joy to behold.
Playwright: Jack Neary
Director: Jack Neary
Scenic & Lighting Design: Daniel D. Rist
Costume Design: Dawn McKay
Cast: (in order of appearance)
B. Brian Argotsinger (Ray)
Nora Streeter (Dorothy)
Stephanie Carlson (Arlene)
Stephanie Craven (Clancy)
Rand Forester (Father Hackett)
Margaret Reilly Streeter (Linda)
MOONGLOW runs October 26 through December 3. Evening show times are at 7:00 p.m. Wednesday and Sunday and at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Matinees are at 2:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Running time 2 hours, 15 minutes with a 20-minute intermission
Majestic Theater, 131 Elem Street, West Springfield MA 01090
Closing date is December 3, 2023
For tickets, phone 413-747-7797