By Mary Ann Bourbeau
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.”
The Jag is directed by Brendan Burke, artistic director of Shadowlands Stages in Ellenville, New York. A Jan. 12 performance includes a pre-show lecture followed by the first sneak preview. On Jan. 13, a sneak preview will be followed by a wine and dessert meet and greet with the cast and creative team. Opening night tickets on Jan. 14 are $50 and include a reception. All others performances are $46.
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