November 2023 - Director/Actor Michael K. Potter sat down to a virtual meeting with playwright Jack Neary to talk about First Night -- and much much more!
Watch the video and/or read the transcript below!
POTTER: Hello, everyone. I'm Michael Potter, managing director of Post productions, and I'm chatting today with playwright Jack Neary, whose very tender, unique holiday romantic comedy, First Night, we’ll be producing at The Shadowbox Theater from December 1st to 16th.
NEARY: Hello, Michael. How are you?
POTTER: Good to meet you. Good to meet you.
POTTER: Before we get into nitty gritty details about the play itself, I was wondering if you could just tell us a bit about you, who you are, and your history as a writer and as a theater professional?
NEARY: How much time do you have?
I have been doing this my whole life. I can't retire because I've never had a real job. I've just been doing this. I started as an actor. I was a grad student at Smith College, which at the time had a grad program for 15 men, which was kind of great because they could actually do real plays with various casts in it. And while I was there, I took a playwriting course from Professor Len Berkman and realized, oh, look, I think I might be able to do this as well. In the meantime, I kept acting. I'm in the union. I've done lots and lots and lots of plays, and I started directing at the same time. And I spent many years, many summers, as an actor and a director, and ultimately the artistic director of the Mount Holyoke College Summer Theater, where First Night was first professionally produced 30-blah-years ago.
As I say, I've acted on stage hundreds of times. I've been in two or three movies. Mainly, however, at this point somebody asks me, “What do you do?” I say I'm a playwright. But I still do those other things. I co-founded a theater called the Greater Lowell Music Theater about ten years ago now. That ran for about five years. So I produced that. I produced the Mount Holyoke College Summer Theater. I co-founded an equity theater at Smith College, which ran from 1991 to . . . I don't know, whatever that plus 27 is. 27-years in Northampton – I was artistic director for six or seven years, and then just was a guest thereafter. So, I'm all over the map. As I keep saying to people, whatever pays the bills at any given time. Basically, what pays the bills these days is playwriting.
First Night was my first play. It really was. It started out as a one-act play in a small festival in Worcester, Massachusetts. And the core of the story just really clicked big time with the audience. I said, oh, I have to expand this thing. So, without getting into the details of the play, that's where that came from.
But that's basically what I've been doing. I've been doing theater in some way, shape, or form for 40-plus-years.
POTTER: Yeah, that's a solid career.
NEARY: Yeah, well, it is what it is. People say, “Well, what would you do if you didn't do this?” And I would say, I can't do anything else. This is what I do. Spiritually and physically and everything else – this is what I am, and this is what I do. I haven't made a crapload of money at it. Not to say that I wouldn't let it come in if it ever does, but I've been hanging in there.
POTTER: Yeah. One of the things that you talked about that I think is really important, especially these days because the industry has changed so much, is that you had your hand in many different parts of theater world. You were a playwright, you were an actor, you're a director, you founded programs and so forth, and talking with people in theater here up in Canada – we're not that far up in Canada, we're just across from Detroit – it's really important; the only way you can make it a go at it is to ensure that you can do as many of the different jobs that are available as possible.
NEARY: Absolutely. If you're a technician or a designer, you're better off than I am. Or if you're a stage manager, you're better off than I am, because there's more opportunity for regular work. But if you do a little bit of everything from the creative end of things – including administrating, which I've done a lot – it keeps it together to a certain extent. You have to sacrifice a lot of things. You do. But it works. It has worked for me, at least.
POTTER: Now, was theater a passion for you early in life, or is it something that you really got passionate about in graduate school?
NEARY: No, I wasn't in a play – I don't even know if I had gone to a play . . . no, that's not true – I wasn't in a play until college. And then I became . . . I'm one of these people who just ends up being in charge of theater things. I don't know why. So I ended up running the drama club and acting in a lot of plays there. And then I did a couple of summer theater things, which you do as apprentices and journeymen and things like that. And then one day at Kean Music Theater I was standing at the callboard next to a very attractive woman because I felt like standing there because she was a very attractive woman, and she looks at me and she says, “Hey, you know, you should be a grad student at Smith”. I said, okay.
So I went, I checked it out, and I auditioned and I got in, and I was there for a couple of years. And while I was there – I forget even what you asked me – and while I was there I met Jim Kavanaugh and other people at Mount Holyoke College, and that was my affiliation with that.
How did I get into this? Tell me what you asked me.
POTTER: What I asked was whether you had a passion for theater early in life, before –
NEARY: No. I would say not until maybe later in high school and college. When I was a kid I was in a marching band in our Catholic parish in Lowell, Massachusetts. And every year for maybe five, six-years, I went, with the band, we marched in the St. Patrick's Day parade in New York. And every time we went down we were there for three days and I always saw one or two Broadway shows. And, of course, that really engendered the appreciation that I have for what I do. So my first experience was with big ass musicals in New York, but that's really all I needed to get me going.
POTTER: So that attractive woman who suggested you go to Smith, did you ever see her again?
NEARY: Oh, she's a Facebook friend. She's always on Facebook. Oh, yeah.
POTTER: So you did keep in touch.
NEARY: Oh, yeah, absolutely. She's living the big life in Florida now, traveling all over the world.
So you mentioned that First Night was your first play. Is it something that you started writing while you were in graduate school?
NEARY: I wrote First Night when I was 35 years old. I got to stop saying things like that, because then people could figure out how old I am. But no, I wrote that while I was the artistic director at the Mount Holyoke College Summer Theater. And I wrote it essentially on a whim because I saw that there was a playwriting festival that was looking for submissions, and I submitted it. And it was probably 45-minutes long at that point. And we did it in Worcester at this festival, and it went extremely well. And the two actors, Mark Cartier and Donna Asali, who were in it, and the director at that point, Nancy Kindlin, enjoyed it enough to stick with it. So what we did was, this was very interesting (well, to me, it was interesting) . . . I expanded it. I added another 45-minutes to the play, to pretty much where it is now, with variations over the last 30 years. And we did it for one night only at the Laboratory Theater at Mount Holyoke College. It was in the winter, but I had already had my summer affiliation with there, so a lot of people knew me. So the place was packed. It was great. But I couldn't go because I was acting in a play in Lowell, Massachusetts. So the very first time this was performed in full length in front of an audience, I was 100 miles away.
So that began its professional life, and from there it's been on and off for over 30 years, including an off-Broadway run, which I have a lot of stories about. And I'll be happy to give you a couple of those, because that's pretty frightening to me, actually.
POTTER: Okay, well, let's talk about that, then. What happened during the off-Broadway run?
NEARY: Okay, so there I am, in my early 40s, a new playwright – Actually, we did it in Boston first for a very successful run at a tiny theater in Boston. Great reviews. We had a great review from the major critic of the Boston Globe. We still use it. He called it “a lovely riff of magic”. So a couple of very nice ladies – one of them I knew pretty well, the other one I didn't – said, “Hey, we're going to bring this to New York”. So they were new producers, they had some money, and so they brought it to New York. And they and I pretty much did what were told. “This is what you have to do here. This is what you have to do there. This is what you have to do to get the Times. This is what you have to do to get the critics. Blah blah blah blah blah.”
And so I did. We went through all kinds of – actually, the first two people who were cast, or almost cast, one of them was cast. Remember Bruno Kirby? The actor, Bruno Kirby?
NEARY: I met with Bruno. He was ready to do it. And Cynthia Nixon. You probably know who Cynthia Nixon is, too, from Sex and the City?
NEARY: And ran for governor a couple years ago.
They were involved in it. And there was a television show called The Jeffersons a million years ago, and one of the actors named Paul Benedict – he played the British guy who lived down the hall – he was going to be the director. And it was ready to go.
But as things happen, you know, misunderstandings, blah, blah, blah, those things kind of eventually fell to the wayside. So we end up with a different director and different actors.
I don't want to get into too much detail in terms of the personalities, but in rehearsal – I was there. I was there all the time. It occurred to, I don't know, the cosmos or something, that the play needed to be done in one act and one of the actors had a problem with one of the situations in the play. I'm avoiding the pronouns, I'm doing everything I can here. Situation in the play: the actor couldn't understand how this could happen in real life. So rather than being a hard ass, which I wish I had been, and said no, no it works – it worked before, get standing ovations, look “a lovely riff of magic” it says right here in The Boston Globe – I cut it. And I cut and cut and cut stuff that wasn't understood by the actor. And we went with a one-act play that ran for 62-minutes. It ran for 85-minutes in Boston and in New York it ran for 62-minutes. As a result we had a couple of decent reviews, but the Times, which I've read – nobody believes this, but I've only read it once because I couldn't read it again – was an absolute evisceration of the play. Because who the hell was I? This guy? He was just, blah, “piece of shit, piece of shit, piece of shit”. And in retrospect I could blame the actor, I could blame the director, and there's a little bit of blame to go around. But ultimately I'm blaming myself for not sticking to my guns and making it the play that it has become again. I restored all the material, put it back in, and that's in the published version. And even since that time, I have enhanced it this way and the other way. And now it's back to working the way it always has worked. Especially since I was able to with one or two little changes, which I'm sure you have or will use – well, you're using, you're changing it to 1995. I made sure that it took place either in its time, which is 85-86, or in a time that would accommodate a video store. That's what it really needs to do. And it has an intermission. I really think that's important.
POTTER: The version we're using has the reference to the Thursday night lineup with Seinfeld and ER. So I think that's why, although I'd forgotten, that's why we went with 1995.
NEARY: Now when we do it we do Seinfeld and Hill Street Blues.
NEARY: It's the same thing, it's just different. There are a couple other tiny things that needed to be changed. But what was surprising about it is was how very little needed to be.
POTTER: Oh, yeah. I would agree.
One thing, actually, I was going to ask you about, because I'm really fascinated by it, is where the intermission takes place – where the act one, act two break takes place. It's a really interesting point to insert an intermission. Can you tell me, as a playwright, what led to the decision to put the intermission there?
NEARY: To put the intermission period or to put it there?
POTTER: To put it where it is, yeah, right there in the script. It’s fascinating.
NEARY: I don't know. I don't know. Here's a couple other things. The very first time we did this – yeah, the very first time, and I think maybe even in Boston – but the very first time we did this there were no video boxes. Everything was mined and the audience completely bought it.
The other thing that was in the earlier versions of this is that when Danny talks to the audience, he froze Meredith like that. He froze her. And it still worked. It worked in Boston. It worked other places. But since that time, I've taken to the point where Meredith can go off and do her little things and just take herself out of it for a second, and he just does his interjections to the audience. So it makes it all more fluid.
As far as where the intermission goes is concerned, I just don't know. Maybe I said to myself, well, that's 45-minutes, I think that's enough. But it's a good place to break because she catches him. She finally catches him on Heavy P. And that allows, in a play like this – not necessarily every play, but a play like this – I like it when the audience has a real good time in the first act, has a real good sharp ending, and then talks about it for 10-minutes, and then comes back in and picks up. They add their ideas to what should happen, what might happen. I mean, they all know what's going to happen until almost near the very end when they get really pissed off at me when she walks off stage and it looks like he's not coming back.
NEARY: People get exercised when they see me after the show. “ Oh, if you had done that, if you had kept her –” you know. But they know what's going to happen, but they don't know how it's going to happen. So they have all their little ideas. And the second act really, really drives because Meredith is just on her horse and she rolls and rolls and rolls and rolls and rolls until the kiss. So it just works in two acts as far as I'm concerned.
POTTER: I agree. And I remember first reading I was really fascinated by where the intermission was placed. It's a very dramatic moment, right? As you say, she's figured out what he said. It's mid-scene and you feel like you want to be propelled into the next part of that conversation immediately. And I kind of like that the audience is forced to wait to see the consequences of that revelation. It works for me as well. Yeah.
And then in the second act there's a tonal shift, too, as Meredith takes over and starts rolling things along, as you said. It becomes both a more poignant and also kind of a goofier play simultaneously, which I think, tonally, is a very difficult thing to pull off.
NEARY: I don't know. That's kind of like what I do. I have no idea. If you read all my stuff, 65% of it is a guy making a decision early that a woman has to fix somewhere down the line.
The play we're doing right now in West Springfield has been running for five weeks. Same basic problem, but it's a whole different story. It's called Moonglow.
I don't know. How did I get into that? What was I talking about? What did you ask me?
POTTER: Most of your plays are about a guy who makes a decision early –
NEARY: Yeah, I said that, I don't know how you got me –
POTTER: How we got there was just that I really appreciate and admire the tonal balance in the second act between this greater poignancy, but also this greater goofiness in terms of the action simultaneously.
NEARY: This is why I appreciate someone like you who gets it by reading it, because a lot of people read my stuff and they say, “You can't do that. You can't have somebody say something like that and then turn it around and have it be, like, a serious moment”. But, yes, you can. It happens in life all the time. But I tell you, the longer I'm doing this, the more I appreciate producers and artistic directors who can read a play and get that, because I just don't think there are many who can. Especially when you send something out cold and it's being read by a 19 year old intern somewhere who just doesn't – really can't relate to something like that. But you really can. There are moments in my play Moonglow, right now, which is similar in tone in terms of: lots of laughs, lots of laughs, lots of laughs, and then Boom! Changes. But audiences buy it immediately. They really do. Especially, of course, if you have actors who can pull it off.
POTTER: Right. Yeah. As long as the characters are authentic and the audience is convinced by them, you can get away with all sorts of things. But it's a tricky thing to write, too, isn't it? And that's why I think I appreciate it. And maybe one of the reasons I don't see that kind of thing in more scripts – although it could be that I'm just ignorant, but it could be that maybe people avoid those kinds of tonal balances because they're difficult to write, even though we've all experienced them in real life, as you say.
NEARY: Well, you've already proved that you're not ignorant by choosing my play.
POTTER: Oh, clearly.
NEARY: Yeah. I don't know. I really appreciate it when somebody gets it. I've reached the point, kind of, where I have very very little faith in people understanding my stuff by reading it. I’d much rather have them come to a reading that I control, that I have good actors in, and let them hear it and see it. Because I tell you, well, everybody who knows anything knows that a play isn't a play until it gets in the hands of actors, and it isn't a good play until it gets in the hands of really good actors. And so far, I've been really lucky with the actors that I've had. Except maybe in New York, but that was just an incident. Just happened to be in the biggest city in the world, but what are you going to do?
POTTER: Can I ask, too, what is it that you cut? Because it feels like, in retrospect –
NEARY: Then you'll know which actor I'm talking about.
POTTER: Oh, okay. Okay.
NEARY: It was a lot of the stuff about calling home and the mother controlling things.
NEARY: She really couldn't understand that. And I didn't get that at all. And I don't know why I cut it, but I did.
POTTER: Yeah. It just felt to me as though when you were relating that story that, in retrospect anyway, and maybe even at the time, you felt you were losing something really important to, perhaps not the narrative, but the emotional heart of the story.
NEARY: And I lost the audience. I certainly lost the critics, but I lost the audience in terms of being able to relate to something like that, which they certainly could.
POTTER: Of course,
NEARY: They know what – I mean, again, it takes place 30-years ago and they know what it was like. Because, let's face it, I don't know what it's like up in Canada, but audiences these days, if you're 65-years-old you're one of the kids in the audience. So they really relate to what it was like for parents and young people making life decisions and how a parent cares a lot about what's going to happen. They're not going to be around forever and, “What's going to happen to my kid?” And I think Meredith (certainly her mother) really cares about – and her mother's a big fan of Danny and she wants this thing to happen. And I think the audience really relates to that. And I cut a lot of that out.
POTTER: It adds a wonderful dimension to Meredith's decision to come to the video store and so forth.
POTTER: As a reader anyway, and also having been working with the script for a while now, I really love that part of it. In my mind, anyway the mother also helped with the index cards. I don't know what the intention was –
NEARY: Of course!
POTTER: I imagined her sitting down with Meredith and working through these index cards.
NEARY: Well, in the little video I sent, when Meredith asks the question, she says, “Ask a sexy question?”, she didn't write that in there. Her mother asked that.
POTTER: That's why it comes out so awkwardly for her. It's a great decision that she makes, too, when it comes to what the sexy question will be.
NEARY: That just happens, you know, look, what should she ask? Oh, my God. “What does VHS mean?” Audiences love that. They just love that.
The other thing that works now because audiences – they're a little nostalgic about VHS, they're a little nostalgic about BETA. And the people who don't know what VHS or BETA is, they'll ask and they'll find out.
NEARY: Because even a video store right now is just so unbelievable to people under 30, really. One of my friends that I work with in Newburyport, we had the set set up that I showed you guys, and she brought her middle school class to walk through: “What?! They had these boxes and you rented them?!” I mean, nobody really relates to it, you know? Now it's like, “DVD? What was that?” Those are still -- they're all behind me here. Those are nothing but DVDs. But even they're going away, you know?
POTTER: Well, my son's 25, and he has memories of video stores because for years they were – well, at least with people like me – a centerpiece of our lives. And he remembers from when he was a child, but there seems to be in his memory and mine just a point at which they all vanished simultaneously.
POTTER: And it transformed the way that we watch things. And were talking about this the other day, actually. You know, generationally we're very different, but we both remember and miss the experience of browsing in a video store.
NEARY: Nothing like it. Nothing like it. One of the things I remember about browsing: you had to browse, at least in my opinion, you had to browse alone. If you went with your wife or if you went with your girlfriend, there's no way you're going to pick the same one. “Oh, let's try this.” “Nah, I don't think so.” You have to go by yourself.
But, yeah, the video store is – I don't know what your set’s going to look like but the one that we set up, it just evokes really instantly a memory for audiences. The set – I don't even have a picture of it, I don't know why I don't – but the set that the guy created in New York was unbelievable. He was one of the top designers. We had all kinds of top things going on in that show, except . . . never mind.
POTTER: Things happen.
NEARY: That it does. It does.
POTTER: One of the reasons that we were so excited when we read this play, which was, gosh, I guess a year and a half ago, almost two years ago – which seems late, given when it was written – is that we're always looking for a good romantic comedy. And it seems like there are very very few solid romantic comedies for the stage. I mean, there are some older ones, but, say, post 1980, I guess, very very few. And whenever we find one that we think is promising, we're disappointed. And this is the first one that really resonated with us, where we thought, oh yeah, this one we have to put on. There just seemed to be something very real in the characters and the way they relate to each other.
Plus, we also really liked the tonal – and clearly it's text and subtext – the homage to the romantic comedies of the 40s and 50s, which we love. I don't know if you've had this experience – I know you've written several romantic comedies – Do you see that there's a dearth of good choices for that genre on stage as well? Or is this something that is also part of my ignorance?
NEARY: Yes, there is. So everybody should just get in touch with me. I have them all.
Because I think the difference is substance. That's the difference between a slight romantic comedy, which I don't know what they are. Because I – actually, the play we're doing now, Moonglow, which you guys should read sometime, is billed in this particular theater as a romantic comedy. And if they had asked me, I would have said, no, it's a play. It's a play. It’s a play. But there are laughs and there's romance. So it's a romantic comedy. And they said, when I asked them about it, they said, “No, that's going to sell”. I'd said, okay. And it has. Like crazy.
I think it's all about the substance. And I think an audience can sit there knowing that they're there waiting for the next laugh, but that's not substantial. But if they sit there caring about what's going to happen next as far as the plot is concerned and, even more importantly, caring about what happens to the persons on stage telling the story, that's really the difference between the good and the bad and the ugly here in terms of telling a story that has humor in it.
POTTER: Yeah. And I would say that's the difference between good stories and bad stories in any genre, in any medium, really.
NEARY: I think so. Yeah.
POTTER: I'm a romantic comedy fan. I'm also a horror fan. And I think that movies suffer from the same problem in that I love these genres, romantic comedy and horror, but I think most of what's offered as representatives of both those genres is awful. But when you find something good, it's wonderful. And then that's what makes you fall in love with that genre.
NEARY: This is not horror, but I have a play called Kong's Night Out.
NEARY: Have you read it?
POTTER: No, I have not.
NEARY: Well, it's a play that takes place in the room next to the room where King Kong reaches in and takes Fay Wray out of the bed. It's been done a few times. It was done close to you. It was done at Meadowbrook out there in Auburn, near Detroit a few years ago with Cindy Williams.
But yeah, I agree with you with horror. I think of my two favorites are telling a substantial romantic story and the horror genre. Every October I get them all out. I watch them all. The Bride of Frankenstein. Every year I'm getting more and more impressed with Fredric March's Jekyll and Hyde. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Some of those things are just – and the James Whale stuff. It’s great great great stuff.
POTTER: There's almost nothing that looks better in the horror genre still, decades and decades later, than Bride of Frankenstein, just in terms of aesthetic, right?
NEARY: In my play Moonglow now I have a whole reference to Bride of Frankenstein. Then I'll send it to you. It's not published or anything.
POTTER: Oh, well, thank you. That'd be great.
Yeah. I think it’s true – you referred to as “substance”, I think that's a good thing to call it. A story needs, you need that emotional investment in the characters and you need to care about what happens to them. But also you need to, I think, understand that the audience doesn't want – what’s the right term for it? Emotional monotony. So I think the best dramas have very funny moments. They have moments of lightness. And there's emotional variety. The best comedies have, I think, very serious dramatic moments.
NEARY: Oh, yeah.
POTTER: All stories, I think, suffer when the audience feels an emotional monotony to the proceedings.
NEARY: Oh, I agree. Yeah.
POTTER: I wanted to ask about some specific details in the play. I mean, first of all, that you mentioned this is the first play that you wrote. Why this story of these two characters who had this almost – it wasn't even and eighth grade fling, even by eighth grade standards – a crush that they neither would admit to each other in the eighth grade, who reconnect after they've both taken these very different paths? Is there something that made that kind of setup resonate with you or did you start somewhere else and that came along later?
NEARY: I think I started, as I do quite often, with an actor in mind. Do you know who Mary Ann Plunkett is?
POTTER: I don't think so.
NEARY: Well, she's New York actress. She's been in a lot of stuff. She won a Tony for Me and My Girl a million years ago. She was a friend of mine in Lowell and I just thought she was the bees knees. And so I wrote First Night with her in mind. And, of course, I put myself into it. I did First Night once, 30 years ago. I was in it once. So it was me and Mary Ann. And then I said, okay, what kind of a situation? And who knows how that situation came about. I mean, I was a big video guy. Big big video store guy. I said, well, I haven't seen this on stage yet, so let's put him in there and see what happens. And what my playwriting teacher, Len Berkman, says your play is one character wants something, another character wants something else, and they clash.
So, she's a nun. And he's afraid to break through, especially with this particular person. So it just sort of evolved. I don't remember – I didn't sit down and consciously say, this is going to happen. It just sort of happened.
And interestingly when were in New York the first person cast after, actually, with Bruno, was Mary Ann. And then she calls me up and she says, “I just found out I'm pregnant; can't do it”. So she couldn't do it. But I also had in the back of my mind, though, thinking about eighth grade and how the hormones begin to, you know, curdle? “Curdle” isn't the word. I just remembered physically this girl and her name was Martha O'Connor. So that's where the name came from, and probably the “M” in her name as well. And about three . . . just before COVID, we were doing First Night at home in Lowell at the Merrimack Repertory Theater just for a weekend, and she showed up. So this is like 40 years later, or 50 almost. And I'm saying, “Martha! You're the person, physically, I based this person on!” And so she was blown away by it, which was kind of cool. She still looks pretty good.
It was just a mix of all kinds of different – I'd never written a play before, really. I’d written a couple of sketches and stuff for Len, but I had never written a complete play before. And it just sort of came together. As I say, it came together incrementally in a 45-minutes piece and then adding another 45 – actually, another 40-minutes to it. But it just sort of came incrementally. And since that time the basic approach has been pretty much the same, usually starting with an actor and just what kind of a story can I tell using that talent?
POTTER: Yeah, I like that approach.
What you mentioned regarding eighth grade, I think that's another aspect of the play that, regardless of what happens in the story, and I've always sort of bristled at this idea that everything in the play has to be relatable. I don't think it has to be relatable, I think it has to be understandable. But this eighth grade experience: those first sort of rumblings and the awkwardness of all of that and the various fears and anxieties that accompany it and so forth, that comes across so authentically and surely there isn't a person in the world who can't relate to that in some way.
NEARY: Absolutely. Eighth grade, it makes no difference.
POTTER: Was Martha flattered?
NEARY: Oh, yeah. She's come to two or three of my shows since then. She still thinks it's her favorite. Well, of course she would think it's her favorite play.
POTTER: What choice does she have?
NEARY: But she was also there with another guy that was in my class at that time. They had gone off and had their own lives and married other people and then came together. It just happened.
POTTER: Oh wow. That's neat.
One of the other things that really appeals to me, and I love a good story. For me, a good story that's driven, propelled by character decisions, is the main thing. But you always want something to reflect on afterwards, too, that emerges from the narrative. The subtext, the themes, and so forth. And what you have here, I mean the way I look at it, the way I understand it, is this really interesting convergence or intersection, thematically, of the idea of dreams. These things that we pine for that seem out of reach, or that we, in one case, for instance, think are too dangerous to pursue, but in another case might propel us forward, we might be driven to pursue them. You have the dreams on the one hand. On the other side, you have this idea of potential. And you have this interesting moment in the second act where we really come face-to-face with the difference between what someone sees as their own potential and what someone else may see as their potential and how those things affect each other.
Is that a tension, a convergence, or a conflict that you felt in your own life, do you think, that subconsciously entered the story? Is that something you've pursued in other stories?
NEARY: I don't think there's anything in my plays, especially in this one, that hasn't converged with my life. Oh, yeah. I have a lot of plays – not a lot of plays, maybe two or three – where the main character even in Moonglow, Jesus, now that I'm thinking about it. I create something near the end of the play that needs to be physically addressed. In Moonglow, near the end of the play, one of the characters says to another character, “Open the bag”. The guy has this bag, and the audience knows that the answer to all his problems is in this thing, and he keeps refusing to open it. Refusing to open it. And that's happened two or three times in different plays of mine. So that is a theme: this inability, refusal to allow wonderfulness to happen.
NEARY: You're like my psychiatrist here. I think that's a big thing with me, and it probably still is. I'm 115-years-old and I'm still waiting to open the bag. But I do it on stage, and when it happens on stage and the character does do this and the audience just *gasp of relief*. In Moonglow we're getting vocal responses to it. It's really wonderful when it happens. So it happens a little time for me every time it happens in a play.
POTTER: It's a wonderful thing hearing those vocal responses to something like that from the audience.
NEARY: Like in First Night, it's the kiss. That kiss – I don't know how I can explain this – but that kiss is kind of based on the kiss at the telephone in It's a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. He's fighting, he's fighting, he's fighting he’s fighting he’s fighting, and she's holding on, holding on holding on holding on, and finally he drops the phone and they embrace. And that's what's happening in that moment. In my mind, anyway. It's the same thing.
POTTER: That's that dynamic that I love in the classic romantic comedies, a lot of which are referenced directly in First Night, is that combative style of flirtation and courtship that they have even in movies like Holiday Inn and White Christmas.
NEARY: Oh, yeah.
POTTER: And it seems like at times that they even hate each other. But if you understand the characters, there's always that sense underneath that you know that really they're pining for each other and something is getting in the way. It's forcing them to contort themselves not to acknowledge it, but eventually it’s powerful enough to push through.
What's important, directing it: a) get the great actors; b) when they start to get angry, you just have to remind them – they know it – you just have to remind them that each of them loves the other one.
NEARY: And whatever that anger is, the audience needs to see it through the technique of a brilliant actor, to make sure that the anger is with eyebrows up as opposed to this. It's such a weird technical thing. It's unbelievable, but it's really true. Because they say – not necessarily in First Night, although they get kind of hard at each other a couple of times, but in other plays they say pretty serious things. But you just have to make sure that the audience knows that they're covering something up.
POTTER: I think that's set up really well in First Night. I mean, by the end of, honestly, by a few pages into the first act, you understand very much Danny's feelings towards Meredith. Meredith, she's a little harder to figure out at first, but it comes through. And the key moment for me is before things get really combative between them, when they start throwing things and so forth, we have that beautiful moment where Danny starts pushing her away. And I find that so devastating, that moment. And I think that moment is the key to that understanding –
NEARY: This is just before the big fight, right?
NEARY: Near the end, and he's saying, “They’re dreams, Meredith”. Okay, yeah.
And again, right now the little production I have . . . I'm not going to say it, but they're tremendous actors. When I'm watching this scene really for the first time, and I've directed it eight million times, these guys showed me how you can play that scene and show all that emotion and all that abandonment of the comedy and still get it back. They showed me how much I really love that scene. I really like that scene.
POTTER: I love it. I love it. That's probably my favorite moment in the play. For me it just hits me right in the gut. It hits me right in the gut, that moment, because you know this is everything he doesn't want to happen. But he honestly, from his own perspective, given his own self loathing, thinks this is the kindest thing to do.
NEARY: Yeah, that's right.
POTTER: It's beautiful.
NEARY: “Because you're Meredith O'Connor, that's why”.
POTTER: She's too good for him. As far as he's concerned, right? And she always has been. And one of the wonderful things I love about the story is the difference in the trajectories of their lives based on their view of themselves. And Meredith catches on to that. Meredith sees that and sees how Danny has held himself back because of his own poor conception of himself. But she was driven to become a nun because of her own confidence and her own belief in herself. And then discovered, as one often does when we take a certain track in life, hey, maybe that's not for me. Maybe I'm going to try something else. But she had confidence to pursue it in both cases. Whereas he really hasn't had the confidence to pursue anything because he sees himself as not only so far beneath Meredith, but so far beneath probably all the kids who picked on him for being the little fat kid.
NEARY: Yeah. Yeah.
POTTER: Devastating. It's devastating, and that's what makes it, I think, that's what makes the humor so much – it hits me so much harder because it's that . . . what do you call it? That contrast. That emotional contrast. When you're in that low point and you're feeling for them and you're feeling their loneliness and their pining and you're aching for that relief, when the comedic bits come they just hit you so much harder.
NEARY: And that's why audiences get really pissed off at me when she walks off near the end and doesn't come back. You think she's not going to come back.
POTTER: They should.
NEARY: I usually stand in the back of the audience and I can hear their anger and their I don’t know, and I just say to myself, “one minute, they'll be fine. They're going to be fine”.
POTTER: They won't hate me forever.
NEARY: And I don't know if you've ever thought of this or if your actors said anything, I usually get early in rehearsal, “Are they really going to hum? Is the audience going to hum?” And my answer is “absolutely they're gonna hum. Absolutely. Every time”. They love it. They love stuff like that.
POTTER: Oh, yeah. And they'll be so emotionally part of the action at that point, I hope.
NEARY: Yeah, that's the point.
POTTER: I can't see any resistance at that point.
Thank you very much for this conversation.
NEARY: I want to ask you one thing. At the beginning of the show – where are you in rehearsal? You're opening up pretty soon, right?
POTTER: Yeah, we open on Friday.
NEARY: Okay. What are you using as a movie for him to watch at the beginning?
POTTER: Movie for him to watch at the beginning? Oh, through the window? Oh, a little TV. We haven't actually settled on that yet. The audience doesn't see the TV image, but we're having the audio. We haven’t decided –
NEARY: Oh, well, here's what I use, and I love it. I use the last couple of minutes of Billy Wilder's The Apartment, which takes place on New Year's Eve. At the end of it, just before – Shirley MacLaine is sitting with Fred MacMurray on New Year's Eve, and he tells her . . . I forget exactly when we start it, but it involves she decides to run to Jack Lemmon's apartment and then they have the last little exchange, which ends up “shut up and deal”. But it has this big movie musical soundtrack going with it. If you get a chance, look at the end of it. I start it – maybe I can send you the beginning of the video or something like that. It really works perfectly. And it also, the way we did it, I add a little thing just before, as he turns off the movie – Ah, never mind. Never mind. That's what I use. You do whatever you want, but I just use the end of Billy Wilder's The Apartment. It's a New Year's Eve movie.
NEARY: And some people in the audience recognize it. Some people don't. Doesn't make any difference.
POTTER: Yeah. As long as they understand the feel of it. I mean, it might be a good excuse to watch it again, because I think the last time I watched it I was 12 or 13. It's been a long time.
NEARY: Which? The Apartment?
POTTER: Yeah, The Apartment. Yeah.
NEARY: I just think it's genius. The thing of it is, it's interesting because when it came out I was also a kid and I didn't watch it because it was banned by the Catholic Church. Because it's about a guy who gives his apartment over to people in his office so they can have sex. And of course Catholics don't have sex. So that's why they banned it. But I've watched it since then, and it's one of my favorite. The ending is so romantic. If you watch, for lack of a better phrase, romantic comedy movies: how many times the person who doesn't quite get it gets it just before the end of the movie and runs to the other character. “Oh! It's him!” It's happened movie after movie. Anyway, if you get a chance, take a look at it.
POTTER: I will. Actually, we've been trying to watch, just as part of our process and because it's fun, all of the movies referenced in the play over the last month or so. It's been really fun to go through that and to be reminded of why these things are mentioned too. There was a couple I haven't seen, and there's a lot of them that I have seen but not for a very long time, and then there's ones like – well, all the Christmas ones you've mentioned I've seen many times. And it's, yeah, The Apartment, it'd be a great excuse to watch that again too. Maybe tonight.
NEARY: What about The Quiet Man? Did you watch The Quiet Man?
POTTER: Not yet. No, not yet. Here's my confession. My confession is I avoid John Wayne. And I'd forgotten about The Quiet Man and so I've been putting it off. But, yeah, we're going to watch it before Friday.
NEARY: It's one of the two or three best John Wayne movies. John Ford, Maureen O'Hara. It's interesting, though, because of the way John Wayne treats Maureen O'Hare in this movie. One of the times I did it, I had my actors go look at it and they said, “you wanted us to watch that?!” Because he's just . . . he’s John Wayne. I'm sorry, he's John Wayne. But there's some romance to it, too, as well.
POTTER: Oh yeah. And he’s got some good ones too. The Searchers, True Grit. I mean, he's got some good ones in his catalog there.
I was going to ask you before we go, too, I forgot: your touring production that you're doing right now. Are you touring all over New England or where are you touring?
NEARY: No, no. I say “touring” because we move it. We've moved it a couple of times. We actually haven't done it in a year. But just after COVID we did it about five or six different places. It's not officially booked or anything. We just find a theater and do it. Because, as I said, I have these two actors, which they're just freaking brilliant, so I'm actually going to rehearse it only three or four times before we do it this time because they've done it before. So it's not an official thing. After this New Year's, we may never do it again. I have no idea.
POTTER: Oh. It's wonderful that you have these actors who are willing to do this, too. That's fantastic.
NEARY: I'm going to lose at least one of them, or probably both of them, to the union pretty soon. And then I’ll have to really start paying them a lot of money. But what are you going to do?
POTTER: That's our lot.
All right. Well, thank you very much, sir. I really appreciate the conversation. And thank you for writing the play and for allowing us to enjoy it and produce it.
NEARY: Oh, I'm thrilled you're doing and I'm glad. I love to hear people like you talk about these things, because I just don't hear it that often. And I know that there's substance in my stuff, and I just wish that there were more people like you who could read it and get it. It just doesn't happen that often.
POTTER: Well, there is definitely substance in it, and I'd love to read Moonglow if you're willing to share it.
NEARY: I will. I'll click that off to you. And there's another one called Jerry Finnegan’s Sister which you might like to.
POTTER: Thank you very much. Thank you.
NEARY: All right.
POTTER: Have a great day.
NEARY: Talk to you soon. Bye bye. Have a good show.
POTTER: Thank you.
2/19/2024 - 4.48 PSYCHOSIS & THE EVENT - WindsoriteDOTca Interview
2/19/2024 - 4.48 PSYCHOSIS & THE EVENT - 519 Magazine Article
2/13/24 - 4.48 PSYCHOSIS & THE EVENT - Meet the Cast
12/12/2023 - FIRST NIGHT - Interview with playwright Jack Neary
12/5/2023 - Sketchy Jésus and the Questionables
11/2/2023 - THE CASE OF THE ODD SHAPED GAS TANKS - 519 Magazine article
11/2/2023 - REFRAMED - 519 Magazine article
10/14/2023 - HANGMEN - Windsorite article
9/21/2023 - HANGMEN - Meet the Cast
6/21/2023 - MIRABELLA - Trailer
6/6/2023 - MIRABELLA - Interview with playwright Joey Ouellette
6/2/2023 - MIRABELLA - Meet the Cast
4/2/2023 - GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS - Meet the Cast
3/7/2023 - The 2023 Edele Winnie Women's Monologue Competition - Meet the Judges
3/7/2023 - The 2023 Edele Winnie Women's Monologue Competition - Meet the Contestants
1/20/2023 - THE CHILDREN - Meet the Casts
11/25/22 - Pirate Attack on the 1C Bus Going Downtown - Interview with playwright Joey Ouellette
11/19/22 - Pirate Attack on the 1C Bus Going Downtown - Meet the Cast
10/25/2022 - Announcing the winner of THE 2022 WINDSOR-ESSEX PLAYWRITING CONTEST
9/28/2022 - STUCK - Interview with playwright Jonathan Tessier
9/14/2022 - STUCK - Meet the Creative Team / Cast
8/22/2022 - A GREAT ROUND WONDER - Interview with playwright Barry T. Brodie
8/9/2022 - A GREAT ROUND WONDER - Meet the Cast
6/5/2022 - PREPARED - Meet the Cast
5/31/2022 - PREPARED - Interview with playwright Kari Bentley-Quinn
4/19/2022 - Interview with playwright Edele Winnie
11/10/2021 - DEAD BEAR - Meet the Cast
11/5/2021 - DEAD BEAR: Interview with playwright John Gavey
9/12/2021 - BLASTED: Meet the Cast
7/2/2021 - CRIMINAL GENIUS: Meet the Cast
3/10/2021 - NEGATUNITY: interview with playwright Matthew St. Amand
3/10/2021 - NEGATUNITY: Meet the Cast
11/16/2020 - THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE: Meet the Cast
10/5/2020 - FATBOY: interview with playwright John Clancy
7/16/2020 - Winner: 2020 Playwriting Contest
6/23/2020 - Announcement: Nikolas Prsa joins Post as Outreach Director
3/15/2020 - BETRAYAL - Meet the Cast
1/18/2020 - PRY IT FROM MY COLD DEAD HANDS: interview with playwright Edele Winnie
1/15/2020 - PRY IT FROM MY COLD DEAD HANDS: Meet the Cast/Crew
11/4/2019 - THE PILLOWMAN: Meet the Cast/Crew
9/18/2019 - AUTOPSY & A HAUNTING IN E FLAT: interview with playwrights Alex Monk & Joey Ouellette
8/29/2019 - AUTOPSY: Meet the Cast
8/29/2019 - A HAUNTING IN E FLAT: Meet the Cast
5/31/2019 - AMERICAN BUFFALO: Meet the Cast
3/31/2019 - NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH: Meet the Cast
3/19/2019 - NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH: interview with playwright Eve Lederman
2/25/2019 - So You're Writing a Play...
1/17/2019 - NO EXIT: Meet the Cast
11/22/2018 - ANOTHER FUCKING CHRISTMAS PLAY...: Meet the Cast & Composer
8/28/18 - EQUUS: Meet the Cast/Crew
7/15.2018 - SHELTER IN PLACE: Meet the Playwright
7/9/2018 - SHELTER IN PLACE: Meet the Cast
7/2/2018 - Writing to be Read
5/3/2018 - STOP KISS: Meet Fay Lynn as Callie
4/10/2018 - STOP KISS: Meet Lauren Crowley as Sara
4/27/2018 - STOP KISS: Meet Dan MacDonald as George
4/25/2018 - STOP KISS: Meet Matt Froese as Peter
4/21/2018 - STOP KISS: Meet Cindy Pastorius as Mrs. Winsley / Nurse
4/18/2018 - STOP KISS: Meet Alex Alejandria as Detective Cole
1/24/2018 - DOUBT: Meet Niki Richardson as Sister Aloysius
1/17/2018 - DOUBT: Meet Eric Branget as Father Flynn
1/10/2018 - DOUBT: Meet Carla Gyemi as Sister James
1/3/2018 - DOUBT: Meet Jennifer Cole as Mrs. Muller
10/2/2017 - TRUE WEST: Joey Wright as Austin
9/25/2017 - TRUE WEST: Dylan MacDonald as Lee
9/18/2017 - TRUE WEST: Ian Loft as Saul
9/11/2017 - TRUE WEST: Cindy Pastorius as Mom
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