Ellenville’s Shadowland stages premiere run of The Jag

After opening the summer season with Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, Shadowland Stages in Ellenville now offer the New York premiere of The Jag, written years ago by Gino DiIorio but held up for practical reasons until now. Shadowland’s Brendan Burke explains that the acquisition of an actual Jaguar (the car, not the cat) was imperative to the production. There’s just no way this play could be done without the genuine article onstage.

So when DiIorio finally contacted him to say that he’d found a Jag, and ask if Burke would come to New Jersey to direct the play in Long Branch, the timing was right. And DiIorio agreed to give Shadowland the use of his 1966 white-on-white classic for a run upstate after the play closed there. The cast came north, too: Dan Grimaldi as the 70-year-old Chick Chicarella, his adult son Bone, played by Christopher Daftsios, and Estelle Bajou as Carla Carr, the zany mechanics savant hired to help restore the Jaguar.

The car had to be gutted and partially disassembled in order to maneuver it through stage doors. It’s now parked on a set expertly designed to replicate a suburban garage, replete with overhead I-beams on which hang retractable hoses and power cords. Various tools and car parts are strewn around the space lined with a cluttered toolbench, a beat-up old easy chair, a utility sink and a mini-refrigerator. The latter is stocked with beer.

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Bone arranges a quick deal to sell the Jag for operating money, but Chick stalls. He doesn’t like the proposed buyer or his son. Alcohol greases angry communication between the two, who are each full of resentment, the source of which becomes apparent when their arguments imply another son: the gifted car-restorer, the chosen recipient of the Jaguar, the son alongside whom Chick was proud to work. Bone, on the other hand, elicits no such fondness from his father. Their loud, abrasive interactions are delivered with convincing reproach over a painful past.

Still, the play’s dialogue is relieved with bits that cause the occasional laughter of recognition from audience members, and with outright comedy coming from the mouth of Carla as well. She lies on the Jag’s “bonnet” and purrs. She misunderstands “figures of expression” and can’t make a pot of coffee, but knows the synchronized timing of the car’s sparkplugs. Clearly a social misfit, she manages to win the confidence and affection of Chick, whose blatant derision of her turns on a dime.

DiIorio says that the story came out of the more pleasant, but similar, relationship that he had with his own father: a good mechanic and excellent craftsman who also owned a non-working Jag, and who wouldn’t agree to sell it until his failing health forced him to realize that he wasn’t going to see it restored. In the play, Chick is blinded by macular degeneration, and his bodily functions are beginning to break down; but he doesn’t want to sell the Jag – particularly not to pay off his recalcitrant son’s gambling debts.

It’s a well-written scene played out in real life in too many garages across the country: the struggle of unfulfilled expectations between parent and child; the lifelong bitterness that ensues; and sometimes, the reconciliation that’s made possible by the unexpected influence of a quirky character like Carla.

The Jag runs until July 16, with performances Thursday through Sunday. The Foreigner by Larry Shue is next, from July 21 through August 13; then Murder for Two opening on August 18 and ending September 10. On September 15, it’s Ripcord by David Lindsay Abaire, ending on October 1, to be followed by the season finale, Disgraced, running from October 6 to 22, a play by Pulitzer Prizewinner Ayad Akhtar. See website for dates and curtain times.

 

After a phenomenally successful capital campaign, the theater shines with Art Deco appointments in the lobby and a comfortably refurbished auditorium that seats around 150. Founded in 1984, the nonprofit company continues to boost Ellenville’s economy with “cars on the curb, feet on the sidewalks,” which mean more business for restaurants in the neighborhood and more interest in other village businesses as well.

A quick tour around the block to the newly renovated extension space proves the nonprofit company’s commitment to the community. Those curbs and sidewalks surround a more contemporary structure that will provide for greater rehearsal space, classrooms and additional productions, such as workshopping plays and doing readings of in-process works.

A new managing director was welcomed into the Shadowland fold this spring: Bradley Diuguid, a Sullivan County boy who went to SUNY-New Paltz (where he met and worked with Burke) and attended grad school at Harvard. Involved in theater his whole life, Diuguid has talents in many areas that are now being put to good use at Shadowland: education, fundraising, marketing and public relations, and every other logistical or administrative task the job requires of him.

“I’ve taught in public schools and afterschool programs and with nonprofit theaters,” he says, also mentioning the outreach programs that Shadowland offers local schools and opportunities for kids to come into the theater atmosphere for acting classes, youth productions and other stage-related functions. Diuguid is also well-schooled in fundraising. “I have done fundraising work for several other institutions, such as the Juilliard in New York City, and it was a big part of my job as executive director at Catskill Art Society.”

His enthusiasm for Shadowland and his love of the region are big pluses. Joining with Burke and company to provide performances of relevance – and to ensure accessibility and affordability to all audiences – is a dream job.

Shadowland Stages are located at 157 Canal Street in Ellenville, offering local audiences the experience of seeing works done by professional actors, directors and designers. The theater operates under contract with the Actors’ Equity Association and brings entertaining, thought-provoking productions to Ulster County: well-worth the drive down Route 209. For showtimes and ticketing information, call (845) 647-5511 or visit www.shadowlandtheatre.org.