Press Articles 2017
"The Jaguar has a logic all its own."
NJ Rep is currently presenting the World Premiere of The Jag written by Gino Dilorio and directed by Brendan Burke. The show has a captivating plot with excellent acting and the superb staging. This must-see production will be on the Long Branch stage through February 12th.
In The Jag "Chick" Chicarella is a cantankerous seventy year-old man who owns a body shop where he keeps his prized 1967 Jaguar Mark 10, a car that requires a lot of repair. Chick's son, "Bone" is in need of cash to pay off his debts and wants to fix up the automobile to sell it for $20,000.00. Enter Carla, an expert in Jaguars, but a young woman who lacks conventional social skills. A complex family history and deep resentments surface as the two men can't agree on anything. And it is Carla who is caught in the crosshairs of their conflicts while she makes it her mission to restore the Jaguar. This drama has just the right touches of humor and heart and takes some unexpected twists and turns as the story unfolds.
The finely crafted dialogue in The Jag is delivered with impeccable timing by the show's talented cast. Dan Grimaldi as Leo "Chick" Chicarella captures the role of the irritable, elderly mechanic who also must deal with his failing eyesight, personal prejudices and frustration with his son. Christopher Daftsios is ideal as the discontented, restless young man Donald "Bone" Chicarella who can't seem to get his life in order. Estelle Bajou brings the role of Carla Carr to life, a quirky young woman with sincere charm.
Bravo to the Creative and Production Team. The NJ Rep stage has been transformed into an authentic body shop complete with the Jaguar Mark 10 taking center stage. The team includes scenic design by Jessica Parks; lighting design by Jill Nagle; costume design by Patricia E. Doherty and sound design by Merek Royce Press. Rose Riccardi is the Stage Manager; Adam von Pier is the Assistant Stage Manager; Brian P. Snyder is the Technical Director; Merek Royce Press is the Webmaster and Marisa Procopio handles Properties. Gabor Barabas is NJ Rep's Executive Producer and Suzanne Barabas is the Company's Artistic Director.
The Jag is everything a play should be. It has a rich plot that entertains, yet informs. It is a show that will be appreciated by automotive enthusiasts and anyone who enjoys great theater. Gather your group and see it while it is on the NJ Rep Stage.
'The Jag' Gives Audiences a Good Ride
A car can play a very important role in a family's life. It can be the vehicle that takes them places such as their daily work and errands or it can represent their opportunities to go to new places such as a family vacation. In a new play titled The Jag, a white 1967 Jaguar sedan is such a vehicle. However, what is represents to the Chicarella family is much more than transportation. This play that premiered at the New Jersey Repertory Company last weekend tells the story of the family's hidden past and present struggles with each other. It uses a car as its focus to unravel the secrets held for years. The Jag has a well written script filled with great dialog, acting by a fine cast, and a real life, full-sized Jaguar on the stage to add lots of atmosphere to an old garage in which it is parked.
The Jag was written by Gino Dilario. Mr. Dilario is an award-winning playwright whose body of work includes several plays that were premiered at the NJ Rep including Release Point, Apostasy, Winterizing the Summer House and Dead Ringer. His plays have also been seen at numerous locations throughout the U.S. In March, 2017, his new play, Sam and Dede, will have its New York premiere at the 59 East 59 Theatre. Mr. Dilario's play The Jag skillfully develops its story through a step-by- step revelation of who the story's characters truly are. The dialog between the three characters is crisp and quick flowing as it brings out who these people really are. From my viewpoint, the character I liked in the beginning of the story was not the one I ended up caring up about at the end and the one I didn't like in the beginning became the winner in the end. That's how carefully the development is in this script. For those who like to watch personality evolution on stage, this play is for you.
The Jag is directed by Brendan Burke and stars Dan Grimaldi, known to many as the identical twin mobsters Patsy and Philly Parisi of The Sopranos, Christopher Daftsios and Estelle Bajou. The script is in fine hands with this cast acting jout the roles of Leo "Chick" Chicarella (Grimaldi), Donald "Bone" Chicarella ( Daftsios), and Carla Carr (Bajou).
Grimaldi plays Chick hard-nosed to open the play as he talks with his son, Donald, about the family car in need of repairs. The Jaguar has been sitting around Chick's garage needing refurbishing for years. The garage was the business Chick ran but can no longer do because he is nearly blind. But we learn later in the play that the car belonged to Chick's other son who is dead. Daftsios plays his part as Donald very firmly in the beginning trying to aid his father to try to get the car into good enough shape to sell. Chick can't seem to let go of the car and Donald desperately wants to see it leave the garage. A third character, Carla, enters as someone who gets hired by Donald to complete the repairs needed so he can make good on a fine offer he has from someone who wants to buy the car. Carla's character is the tipping point of the play. Bajou play Carla in a most delightful way as someone who is a bit naïve about life, but who knows everything there is to know about Jaguars. Her repair and refurbish skills are legendary and she comes through for the Chicarella family's Jaguar. All is going well until the car's refurbishing is nearly complete. And then, stories unravel, and all three characters need to decide how involved they can stay in this project. The end is a bit of a surprise, one that theater goers will have to decide whether they like or not because it represents a strong dose of reality that could likely occur with the dysfunctions of such a family.
The other "star" of this show is the Jaguar itself that is fully intact at all times on the stage. It is a beautiful car to see and in many ways, it just doesn't seem to fit in the setting it is in. Maybe that's a clue to those coming to see this play. The ill fit of the car will give you clues as to what the outcome is. The Jag is well worth coming to see.
REVIEW: The Jag at NJ Rep
NJ Stage, by Gary Wien
The Jag is the latest play by Gino DiIorio to make its debut at NJ Rep. It involves an aging mechanic named "Chick" Chicarella who is nearly blind from macular degeneration, his son Donald (known as "Bone"), and a female mechanic named Carla.
Chick was an excellent mechanic in his day. Bone never had the skills, the patience, or the artistry of his father or his brother Dave - known as "Head" (put together the kids are called Bone Head). The play opens with the two of them inside the car and his father criticizing his son's work at restoring the Jag. He knows his son takes short cuts, which he doesn't believe in. Exiting the car, Chick grabs a beer and some brandy — something he does quite often. Bone tells him he's an alcoholic.
"I'm not an alcoholic, I'm a drunk," replies Chick. "Alcoholics go to meetings."
When Bone first told him he was moving in to help fix up the Jag, his father knew something was wrong. Bone has been something of a screw-up his whole life, often facing huge gambling debts. He tells Chick he has found a buyer for the Jag (a guy named Jake The Snake) and his father instantly knows that Bone must be in deep once again.
Chick isn't interested in selling the car until he hears that Jake is willing to pay twenty grand for the car if they get it to mint condition and the car can run. He tells his son that he needs to hire someone to fix up the car because he cannot do it anymore.
Enter Carla. She is a top notch Jaguar mechanic who comes highly recommended, but is a cross between a kid with ADD kid and someone bi-polar who has Tourettes's. She's also a lesbian - something that is a bit foreign to Chick's world.
"I didn't save this car for years so some fruit cake could come in and mess it up… Hey Sybil," says Chick.
He gives her a test to see how much she knows about Jaguar cars. She not only passes the test, but impresses Chick. As he watches her work, he soon realizes she knows much more than Bone and reminds him of his other son.
"Geez, you're good," says Chick. "Almost better than me and I am the best… was the best."
Dan Grimaldi is excellent as Chick. He's like Archie Bunker as a blind mechanic and utterly comfortable in his own skin. He says whatever he feels and has no filter at all. There is nice chemistry between Dan and Estelle Bajou who is hilarious as Carla. At times, Estelle reminded me of a young Goldie Hawn circa the Laugh-In era. Chick uses a myriad of expressions, which Carla doesn't understand, but the two quickly establish a friendship out of their mutual respect and love for cars. They joke about her being a lesbian and he teaches her how to dance the jitterbug, but she never gets the hang of how to make coffee.
Christopher Dafstios is very strong in a challenging role. He is off stage for a lot of the play, but has several intense and emotional scenes. Christopher has to play the bad guy and the person riding an emotional roller coaster, and he pulls it off extremely well. Through his character, we learn that the Jag was originally intended to be a birthday present for his brother — the son who was the father's favorite, but who died young. He has lived his life basically in his brother's shadow and has to relive those feelings while watching Chick and Carla work together like his brother and father once did.
"That girl's a few fries short of a happy meal, but she knows her cars," says Chick.
As the car is restored more and more, Chick has less and less interest in selling it. He never truly wanted to sell it in the first place, but the offer of twenty grand sounded good. Meanwhile, Bone sets a deadline for the project. He wants the car sold and needs his share of the money. Bone refuses to tell his father why he is in such a rush, but Chick knows it has to be a gambling debt.
"You're so full of shit, your eyes are brown," he tells his son.
Over the years, the car became more than just a member of the family — it was a stand-in for a member of the family. One of the most difficult aspects of staging this play is the necessity of having the car on stage. It is an enormous challenge getting the vehicle through the doors of most theatres, but the play absolutely needs the car. I'm not saying it steals the show, but it definitely earns its curtain call.
The Jag is highly recommended. It is a touching story with plenty of laughs and truly wonderful acting and Brendan Burke's direction keeps everything moving at a great pace. Performed without an intermission, the entire play takes place in a beautifully designed set by Jessica Parks, who has turned NJ Rep's stage into an actual garage complete with everything from tools to hockey sticks and ice melt.
The Jag is running at New Jersey Repertory Company (179 Broadway) in Long Branch now through February 12.
PHOTOS BY SUZANNE BARABAS
The Two River Times: THE JAGUAR JALOPY: NJ REP LATEST PRODUCTION
Scene on Stage, by Mary Ann Bourbeau
January 5, 2017
LONG BRANCH – When Gino DiIorio was growing up, his father, who worked as an auto body repairman, had a 1966 Jaguar sedan in the garage that he was forever working on.
"We used to joke about that thing, like it was a member of our family," DiIorio said. "It was in the garage for 35 years. Whenever my father had a heart attack, he would say, 'I can't die. I've got to finish the Jaguar.'"
DiIorio, a professor of theater at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., has had several of his original works produced at NJ Repertory Company in Long Branch, including "Release Point," "Apostasy" and "Dead Ringer."
His latest, "The Jag," runs from Jan. 12 to Feb. 12. The story is about – you guessed it – a family with an old Jaguar in the garage that is in desperate need of repair.
"The play is about how an object can become a member of the family," DiIorio said. "Sometimes we have to let it go, like a family member."
DiIorio received an arts grant that allowed him to purchase an old Jaguar, which had to be dismantled in order to get it into the theater, then reassembled on the stage.
"I always knew when I did this show that I would put a car in the theater, but I didn't believe it until I saw it," he said. "I could have done the play without it, but not as well."
In the show, the Jaguar is the prized possession of 70-year-old "Chick" Chicarella. When his son, "Bone," suggests that they finish the car and sell it off, old family wounds and failures rise to the surface. Unable to complete the task by themselves, they hire Carla, who is an expert in Jaguars, but woefully lacking in social skills. Together, the three learn some hard lessons about repairing cars and smoothing out life's jagged edges.
All three main actors are seasoned performers. Chick is played by Dan Grimaldi, who portrayed identical twin mobsters Patsy and Philly Parisi on HBO's "The Sopranos." His son Bone is Christopher Daftsios, who has an impressive body of work in regional theater, including NJ Rep. Estelle Bajou plays the role of Carla, a Jag expert with Asperger's syndrome. Bajou appeared in the musical "Once" on Broadway.
"There's a really good chemistry between the three actors," said DiIorio.
As the curmudgeonly father, Grimaldi's relationship with his stage son is often challenged. When Carla comes to help with the car, they are forced to understand someone else's point of view, someone who sees life in a different way that they do.
"It's a family drama but it's unique," said DiIorio. "The family is a little dysfunctional and eccentric. It's very funny. It has a lot of laughs. And who knows, you might even see your own family up there."
No matter what childhood memories might emerge from this play, DiIorio admits he does not own or have any intention of ever owning a Jaguar.
"When my father finally sold his after 35 years, it still needed work," he said. "They're very touchy cars. Some don't run when it rains. The joke about Jaguars is that you need one to run and one to keep in the repair shop. I would love one but I don't dare. I need a car to be reliable. I have model Jags instead."
Front Row Center
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 LINK News
Theater Review: Incredible actors, equally incredible set make The Jag a thrill rideBy Madeline Schulman
Did W.C. Fields say, "Never work with children or animals," or should the quote be marked with an asterisk as apocryphal? In either case, we can add "or vintage cars," because as talented as the three excellent actors in Gino Dilorio's Jag are, they are constantly upstaged by the beautiful Jaguar which gives the play its title.
The car is the centerpiece of set designer Jessica Park's meticulously recreated garage, and is the physical and emotional bond holding the three characters together.
Leo "Chick" Chicarelli (Don Grimaldi) suffers from macular degeneration, and cannot see to restore the Jaguar. His son, Donald "Bone" Chicarelli (Christopher Daftsios), is an out of work, failed gambler, living under the shadow of his dead brother David, Chick's openly acknowledged favorite. Chick and Bone are at odds over the fate of the Jaguar. Bone wants to sell it. He has a buyer who will pay $20,000 for the car if it is in mint condition and drivable by his deadline. Chick wants to keep the car, because tangible reminders of the past are hard to let go of.
Chick cannot restore the car, and he does not trust Bone, so enter Carla Carr (Estelle Bajou), an intriguing bundle of quirks. Carla is a lesbian who falls somewhere on the autism spectrum. She takes everything literally. Again and again, Chick has to explain that a metaphor or simile is a "figure of expression." She doesn't understand how to hold a conversation, answering a request for what she would like for lunch with a long dissertation on microwaving frozen pizza. With all her idiosyncrasies, this "fruitcake" is a genius of Jaguar, with an encyclopedic knowledge and an intuitive understanding of what the car needs and how to fix it.
A rapport between Chick and Carla grows into friendship, leaving Bone more of an embittered outsider than ever. We are interested in learning the characters' histories and seeing whether Chick and Bone can ever resolve their differences. But we are equally, if not more interested, in seeing whether the mechanical hero (Carla insists the Jag is masculine) will roar into life and flash its headlights for us.
The Jaguar was bought in Maryland, transported by truck to New Jersey, disassembled at a local garage, transported by pieces through the narrow doors of NJ Rep, and reassembled under the eyes of Jessica Parks and technical director Brian Snyder. If Mr. Dilorio or any other playwright is interested, I would willingly watch a play about that!
A CurtainUp New Jersey Review - The Jag
Oh, I XKE. Proud, significant automobile. Very fine. Savage.—fine, fine, fine—automobiles. Iconic automobile. Coupe, convertible, V6, V8, V12love Jaguars. Love the Jaguar, Worked on many…many jaguars? Uh, XJ6, XF, XJR, XKR, S Type, E Type! XKE! Love the — Jaguars have a logic all their own. — Carla
Probably not since the stage version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has a car been made the primary object of interest for a show's characters. But unlike that fantastical car that flies, the 1967 Jaguar 420 "Saloon" in Gino
DiIorio's entertaining new play remains stationary. But in its stillness, The Jag is able to move the hearts and change the minds of a septuagenarian father, his estranged son and a young woman mechanic equipped with Tourette-tinged Aspergers. DiLorio works his theatrical magic in a garage/bodyshop in Providence Rhode Island and where dispirited prodigal son Donald "Bone" (Christopher Daftsios) has returned to work on the restoration of the The Jag with his long embittered and virtually blind father Leo "Chick" Chicarella (Dan Grimaldi.)
A widower, "Chick's dream of having a family business were dashed years ago with the tragic death of Bone's brother whose artistry as a mechanic apparently didn't rub off on his less gifted sibling. A wheeler-dealer and burdened with a gambling debt, Bone has returned home determined to finally complete the restoration and sell the Jag that he originally purchased for the favored brother in partnership with his father.
Because of Bone's limited skills he hires a young woman mechanic Carla Car (Estelle Bajou.) Carla is severely lacking in social skills but she has an acute knowledge of Jags. Her entrance as she sees the Jag for the first time and caresses its "bonnet" is as close to a passionate love scene as we are likely to see in this play.
DiIorio makes good use of coarse vernacular the kind that makes sparks fly between Chick and Bone. Their "figures of expression" are a constant puzzlement and source of humor for Carla. Tightly structured and intense, the interaction of the three characters is beautifully developed for us to see how three needy people learn to test drive their disparate disabilities and dysfunctional behavior under the same roof. What we see under that roof, and awesomely created by set designer Jessica Parks, is a detailed, fully functional, completely out-fitted body shop.
The three principals, under the fine direction of Brendan Burke, keep the dramatic stakes high. Grimaldi, who is probably best known for playing the twin gangster brother on the HBO series The Sopranos, pushes the rage and regrets pedal to the floor as the hard-drinking Chick ("I'm not an alcoholic, I'm a drunk) but reveals his ability to mellow his cantankerous nature in the light of Carla's handicapping naivete.
Ms. Bajou is giving one of the most poignantly exhilarating performances I've seen this year as the highly-strung but intensely-focused Carla. A highlight is seeing her reluctantly coming out of her comfort zone to jitterbug with Chick.
Although Bone is fueled by resentment, Daftios finds a path for us to make us his ally. A resolve with a nice twist in the relationships brings the play to a very satisfying conclusion.
In its world premiere engagement, The Jag marks an auspicious beginning to the New Jersey Repertory Company's 20th anniversary season. It's a good bet for a healthy life in regional theaters and beyond. The audience at the performance I attended was vocal in its approval and responded with prolonged applause at the curtain calls.
Estelle Bajou and Dan Grimaldi
THE JAG by Gino Dilorio
Reviewed by Michael T. Mooney at
New Jersey Repertory Company, Long Branch NJ,
Friday, January 13, 2017 at 8 pm
Let's start by addressing the elephant in the room. In this case, the elephant is a car and the room is the 18' x 25' stage of NJ Rep. Yes, readers, the current world premier now playing on the tiny Long Branch stage features an actual 1967 Jaguar automobile. It's a tribute to the Rep's typically excellent production values that this remarkable feat was possible. It's also a tribute to Gino Dilorio's typically high caliber writing that the the car doesn't upstage the play itself. Having a real car on stage may be a first for the the Rep, but it has been done before. Alan Ayckbourn's Just Between Ourselves (1976) also had a garaged automobile as the center of its narrative and in Richard Dresser's Rounding Third (2002) a passenger van served as refuge for two middle-aged little league coaches, just to name two.
If you're thinking that the much-coveted car is more dramatic symbol than status symbol, you'd be correct. In this case, the Jag represents those bucket list projects that keep many of us going. The play is set in a suburban garage where Leo (nicknamed Chick) and his son Donald (dubbed Bone), work to restore the car with local jobber Carla. Irascible Chick has lost his sight from macular degeneration and must rely upon Bone and Carla to help him finish the project he started with his now-deceased favorite son, David. Bone is eager to finally sell the car to pay off some serious gambling debts.
As you might guess, the fuel this JAG runs on is a tankful of high test friction between Chick and Bone. Although some might say that the car is the play's fourth character, it is actually dead David who's presence looms large in the garage, completing the mechanics quartet. If this were a farce, it might facetiously be titled "My Brother the Car," but it's not that sort of play. That's not to say it isn't funny, (Chick: "I'm not an alcoholic, I'm a drunk. Alcoholics go to meetings.") but THE JAG is more a well-written character study with revealing spurts of wry humor than an out-and-out comedy.
Driving THE JAG (forgive the pun) is veteran director Brendan Burke, who has assembled a fine cast. As Chick, Dan Grimaldi is convincingly blind as well as convincingly gruff. Christopher Daftsios' Bone offers a nice mix of quiet sensitivity and masculine (Italian-American) pride.
But it is Estelle Bajou as Carla who is the play's most enigmatic and delightful creation. Carla is an eccentric out lesbian with a sweetly quirky personality. She hates cars, but has a passionate personal devotion for Jaguars. This is the kind of character that might derail the entire play if not properly cast. Thankfully, Bajou is absolutely perfect. She may even be a bit too perfect for the current JAG. Although Grimaldi and Daftsios' father / son conflict is truthfully portrayed, it also rings a tad familiar.
The dynamic created between Carla and Chick, however, becomes increasingly fascinating and truly unique. The brief stage time they share makes us long for a second act that further develops this odd couple. If Dilorio expands THE JAG beyond its 90-minute running time, let's hope this pair are in the front seat. As it is, THE JAG is still a satisfying theatrical joy ride.
Reviewed by Michael T. Mooney
Dan Grimaldi and Estelle Bajou in a scene from "The Jag." (Photo: COURTESY OF SUZANNE BARABAS)
TOM CHESEK, CORRESPONDENT
Ask any automotive enthusiast who's ever invested their heart, soul and bank account into the restoration of a vintage Jaguar: the famously finicky and contrary classic marque has elicited as many curses in its time as pledges of allegiance, from devotees of British steel.
It's a textbook one-sided relationship; the stuff of flaring tempers and unhealthy obsessions — or, as Gino DiIorio could tell you, the makings of high drama in lowdown settings.
The New York-based playwright, whose own relationship with NJ Rep has proven to be a long and mutually beneficial one, has been looking in on preparations for the latest of his scripts to make its world premiere in Long Branch, a property by name of "The Jag."
Dan Grimaldi (left) Estelle Bajou and Christopher Daftsios in a scene from "The Jag." (Photo: COURTESY OF SUZANNE BARABAS)
That would be The Jag; specifically a 1967 Jaguar 420 "Saloon" that sits stationary and silent inside the garage of septuagenarian "Chick" Chicarella (award winning "Sopranos" veteran Dan Grimaldi, returning to NJ Rep following his turn in "Lucky Me") as the seemingly never-ending project of a man whose son (Christopher Daftsios, of last year's "Substance of Bliss") is intent on convincing the old man to finally finish the car and sell it off.
When their attempts at restoring the vehicle result in frustration and the re-opening of old wounds, father and son enlist the aid of Carla (Rep newcomer Estelle Bajou), a young woman who is described as "an expert in Jaguars, but woefully lacking in social skills." With the Jag acting as catalyst for some complicated interpersonal dynamics,"the three learn some hard lessons about repairing cars and smoothing out life's jagged edges."
As DiIorio sees it, "we have relationships to objects; some more than others...which is why this play is not about 'The Toyota' or 'The Honda.' It's a play with a lot of moving parts, if you'll pardon the pun.
Dan Grimaldi and Estelle Bajou in a scene from "The Jag." (Photo: COURTESY OF SUZANNE BARABAS)
"My dad had a '66 Jaguar sedan, which was always in the shop," adds the playwright in explaining the script's inspiration. "The kind of car that wouldn't run in the rain; that wouldn't run if you looked at it the wrong way... but he'd tell you that I can't die. I gotta finish the Jag!"
The logistics of getting a full-size car onto the modestly scaled NJ Rep stage — not just any car, but a very particular year, make and model of imported driving machine — served to keep the fully produced premiere of "The Jag" on the back-burner, even as the script saw some well-received readings in Chicago and suburban Virginia.
Dan Grimaldi (left) and Christopher Daftsios in a scene from "The Jag." (Photo: COURTESY OF SUZANNE BARABAS)
When a perfectly matched "wreck" was discovered in Baltimore, NJ Rep set designer Jessica Parks and her crew endeavored (at "quite a bit of expense," according to DiIorio) to transport the vehicle to Long Branch, dismantle it (to the tune of sawing it in half), and reassemble it within a detail-intensive garage setting — an undertaking of which the playwright comments,"they somehow managed to make the stage seem bigger."
Serving as director for the production is another newcomer to the NJ Rep fold — Brendan Burke, longtime artistic director of Shadowland Stages in New York's Catskills, and a DiIorio associate who's also expressed interest in taking this "Jag" on the road upstate.
Christopher Daftsios and Estelle Bajou in a scene from "The Jag." (Photo: COURTESY OF SUZANNE BARABAS)
Meantime, the playwright is excited to be reunited with the Long Branch-based team that's "been very good to me through the years ... They've produced things like 'Release Point' (a quiet character drama of youth baseball and convicted child molesters) knowing that they might take a bath on it. They take a lot of risks, and they'll be able to do it with even more characters when they're able to produce shows in their new space."
New Jersey Repertory Company developing West End Arts Center
Newspaper Media Group
By KAREN RAPOLLA
New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) has purchased the old West End School on West End Avenue from the Long Branch School District for $2.25 million in order to convert the 1920s structure into a major cultural arts center.
The award-winning, nonprofit professional theater company, which develops new works for the American stage, will be expanding with a second location on the corner of West End and Sairs avenues.
The school previously served grades K-5 until its closure in June 2014, and students were moved to the new George L. Catrambone Elementary School.
The West End neighborhood in the City of Long Branch is well known for its artistic flair, original Jersey Shore music scene, quaint retail shops, restaurants, boardwalk and beaches. The local community is coming together and embracing the new West End Arts Center project with enthusiasm.
NJ Rep was founded in 1997 by Dr. Gabor Barabas, executive director, and his wife, SuzAnne Barabas, artistic director. Gabor Barabas has produced over 100 world premieres at NJ Rep. Producing plays has always been a passion of the pediatric neurosurgeon.
"The intent has always been to expand the theater to a larger, secondary location and to expand all of our programs. We are dedicated to focusing on new productions and are fortunate to attract high-profile scripts and enormous talent," said Gabor Barabas. "To expand the arts and revitalize the community are the goals of NJ Rep. The bottom line is in order for us to succeed, we need the support of the community. I am thrilled to report we have that enthusiasm in Long Branch and Monmouth County."
NJ Rep's primary mission is to develop and produce new plays and to make a lasting contribution to the American stage. In keeping with its mission, NJ Rep has produced 125 plays in 20 seasons. The theater is committed to nurturing the work of not only established writers, but new and unknown playwrights and has maintained an open submission policy, receiving over 500 scripts each year from throughout the U.S. and the world.
The West End location is ideal for a cultural arts center at the Jersey Shore.
"We have been looking to expand our operations for the last 10 years. This vision of a cultural arts center is our dream that is becoming a reality," said Gabor Barabas.
The purchase of the school closed on May 2, 2016. By December, NJ Rep had acquired all the necessary approvals from the City of Long Branch Planning Board to move forward with their beautifully designed building renovations and additions necessary for this ambitious dream to become a reality.
The West End Arts Center is a community development project and will have a tremendous impact economically with this exciting new landmark. In addition to the widespread, overwhelmingly positive community support, the project maintains strong relationships with City of Long Branch Mayor Adam Schneider and Long Branch School District Superintendent Michael Salvatore.
NJ Rep has met with Salvatore to discuss partnering together for an after-school arts program. This program, along with community workshops, will greatly benefit Long Branch students.
The West End neighborhood of Long Branch is known as the traditional Bohemian section of Long Branch, with a long history of cultural undertakings. There is the well-known 1970s photo of one-time city resident Bruce Springsteen, standing on the sidewalk on Brighton Avenue within a block of the old West End School. There are many iconic local businesses that continue to enjoy success and local fame, as visitors to the area specially seek them out. These include the Ink Well, Brighton Bar, Ron's West End Pub and Richard's Deli, among others.
"I'm excited about the new arts center. Unfortunately, there just aren't enough opportunities for artists from all mediums to meet and collaborate. This is a chance to not only offer classes to students at all levels, but also to bring artists together just so they can share ideas and works," said Gino DiIorio, of Massachusetts, and playwright of the current production of "The Jag" at the Lumia Theater in Long Branch.
"For example, in music, there used to be studios like Sound City where different musicians would poke their head into this studio or that, just to hear what people were working on. I can see the arts center providing the same kind of opportunities for actors, directors, designers, playwrights, musicians — the whole ball of wax. So, this has the chance to be something very cool for artists and the community," DiIorio said.
Currently located at 179 Broadway in Long Branch, NJ Rep was established in 1997 and has produced over 100 new plays at the Lumia Theater (a 68-seat theater), generously donated by David and Margaret Lumia. NJ Rep will continue to bring intimate performances to their Broadway location in addition to the productions held at the new cultural arts center. NJ Rep currently produces six shows a year at the Lumia Theater, holds 25 readings of new plays in development and holds classes for both adults and children.
The plan for the new cultural arts center in West End will include two theaters (one with 165 seats and a second with 90 seats), one cinema with two screening rooms (150 seats and 85 seats), a rehearsal theater and a Black Box theater (90 seats). The plans also include small apartments located on site for visiting playwrights, directors and performers.
The center will also have a visual art and exhibition museum, studio and educational space for musical and theater lessons. It will also have on-site parking for 100 vehicles, a rooftop cafe and a great lawn area for outdoor performances during the summertime.
The project will include a capital campaign this spring to raise the needed $15 million for the renovations and additions. Plans are currently underway to move the administrative offices of NJ Rep and utilize the newly painted classrooms — courtesy of many community volunteers this past October — for workshops and readings this spring. Construction should take approximately 18-24 months once enough funding is available.
"If we raise funds more rapidly, we will do it all in one phase," said Gabor Barabas. "We plan to reach out to corporations, foundations, government agencies and independent donors. We will have naming rights for major donations. Once the project is underway, we expect it to take approximately one year to complete."
NJ Rep's patrons can enjoy local dinner and theater deals locally. NJ Rep partners with select local restaurants, and such dinner/theater negotiations are always expanding.
"We will be also negotiating bed and breakfast and hotel accommodation packages for the future," said Gabor Barabas.
NJ Rep plans to reuse all the existing buildings (28,000 square feet) and add an addition (20,000 square feet) that will bring the total square footage to 48,000 feet. The exterior will consist of red brick with a glass lobby. Architect Robert Blakeman has been retained as the general architect, and the Holzman Moss Boffino Company has designed the theaters.
NJ Rep's current production at the Lumia Theater on Broadway is "The Jag," a world premiere by Gino DiIorio. The plot involves 70-year-old "Chick" Chicarella who has one prized possession, a 1966 Jaguar that is in desperate need of repair. When his son suggests that they finish the car to sell it off, old family wounds and failures rise to the surface. Unable to complete the task themselves, they hire Carla, who is an expert in Jaguars, but woefully lacking in social skills. Together, the three learn some hard lessons about repairing cars and smoothing out life's jagged edges.
Dan Grimaldi is an actor in "The Jag."
"NJ Rep is one of the most delightful theaters, and they have the highest professional standards. Gabe and SuzAnne produce plays, which are admirable and pleasurable [for] their subscribing audiences. It is a pleasure for me to work here," said Grimaldi.
Robin Bleeker and Van Rhonheimer of Long Branch are longtime theater subscribers of 17 years.
"We love the fact that we do not have to travel to Manhattan to see plays of this professional caliber. We usually like to come the night before opening night, and as subscribers to the theater we just have to call to secure our seats. The new cultural arts center is sure to be good for the community, and we couldn't be happier for its successful future," said Rhonheimer.
NJ Rep Board President Marilyn Perlman is thrilled with the positive support from the local community.
"Through West End Arts, we will be [the] catalyst in the economic development and revitalization of our community and will provide a wide array of cultural opportunities for its residents and young people," said Perlman.
"This is an opportunity to make Long Branch a national destination for the arts. The arts have the ability to transform a city," said SuzAnne Barabas.