The JAG

by Raphael Badagliacca

Some objects have lives of their own.  Some have the power to take hold of our lives.  For Americans,  no object has taken greater hold than the automobile, especially cars distinct enough to have the personality of the Jaguar.

So begins our story on a set magically transformed into a garage.  In this garage, stands before us a full size, real Jaguar, stubbornly immobile, while the actors move in and out and all around it, preparing it for a sale that will take it out of their lives which may or may not happen.  In the process, a family history unfolds, revealing secrets.

“Chick” Chicarella (Dan Grimaldi) had two sons, but now he only has one.  To our ears, he doesn’t think much of “Bone” (Christopher Daftsios) — the son he still has.  Nor does he think much at first of the mechanic his son has hired, “an expert in Jaguars,” to help with the task of readying the car; for starters, Carla (Estelle Bajou) is, well, a girl.

Carla is a special girl.  Her body language clearly sets her apart as socially awkward, mildly Asperger-like with the extreme attention to detail in a narrow focus that syndrome brings.  Her focus is the Jaguar.  She admits she doesn’t even know anything about any other type of car. But she knows everything about the Jaguar.  Bajou keeps her character completely consistent throughout.  She also makes her appealing.  In Bajou’s hands, despite the character’s lack of social skills, she becomes the center and the heart of the play.

We feel that Chick, in his seventies, senses Carla’s attractiveness.  He has no choice but to sense it.   He’s blind.  This is the second time Dan Grimaldi has played a blind man on the NJ Repertory stage, although in “Lucky Me” we were never sure if his character was actually blind or faking blindness, which makes his blindness performance even more impressive.  After “The Jag” he shared this with me: “Yeah, I’m the resident blind guy.”

Grimaldi’s performance is passionate and completely believable in every way.   The best compliment you can give any actor is that in what you just experienced you forgot you were watching acting.  This observation extends to the entire cast and to Gino DiLorio’s script which makes the conflict feel so real.

This is the third time I have seen Daftsios on the NJ Rep stage.  First in the inimitable “Swimming at the Ritz” as Pamela Harriman’s Italian valet and confidant, and then as the husband in “Substance of Bliss.” In the latter and in “The Jag” he excels at giving us a character who is the harbinger of an uncomfortable truth, guiding everything he does and says.

Chick is blind to this truth.   He develops affection for Carla as she does for him.  She has the qualities he values in the idealized vision of his favorite son – expertise and hard work – and he inches her out of her shell.  Truth may be elusive, but it is sensed, yet to have real impact it has to be spoken aloud, a task which falls to the other brother, second in every way, except this one.

The Jag itself, is of course, the main character.  It takes on the shape of whatever car occupies that place in your mind.  Give this show a spin.   It’s a great ride.

The JAG

Written by Gino DiLorio directed by Brendan Burke;  scenic designer, Jessica Parks; lighting designer, Jill Nagle; technical director; Brian P. Snyder; sound designer, Merek Royce Press  costume designer, Patricia E. Doherty; stage manager, Craig M. Rosenthal; assistant stage manager, Adam von Pier; properties, Marisa Procopio; artistic director, SuzAnne Barabas; executive producer, Gabe Barabas.

With: Melissa Estell Bajou, Chrisopher Daftsios, and Dan Grimaldi.

At NJ Repertory Company (179 Broadway, Long Branch,  NJ — 732-229-3166; NJRep.org) through February 12.  Thursdays & Fridays 8pm; Saturdays 3pm & 8pm; Sundays at 2pm.

Raphael Badagliacca

Author: Raphael Badagliacca

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