It was quite a feat to get a vintage Jaguar sedan onto the 18-by-25-foot stage of New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch. The car had to be taken apart and then reassembled, since there was no entranceway large enough for it to be driven through.
Scenic designer Jessica Parks also deserves a lot of credit for creating its home: a dingy garage, cluttered with tools and other odds and ends that look like they have been been gathering dust for decades.
NJ Rep, in other words, has put a lot of effort into “The Jag,” the new play, written by Gino DiIorio (“Dead Ringer,” “Darwin at Down,” “Reparation”), that is currently having its world premiere there, with Brendan Burke directing.
Unfortunately, though, The Jag is the most interesting thing about “The Jag,” which fails to find much drama in its central relationship, between the car’s owner, Leo “Chick” Chicarella (played by Dan Grimaldi, best known for playing twins Patsy and Philly Parisi on “The Sopranos”), and his son, Donald “Bone” Chicarella (played by Christopher Daftsios).
Chick, who is nearly blind, is reluctant to sell his prized possession, but Bone lobbies for it, mainly, we soon learn, so he can use some of the money to pay off a big gambling debt. The Jag needs some work, and the Chicarellas don’t have much money to spare, and so they find a Jag expert, improbably named Carla Carr (Estelle Bajou), who won’t charge very much.
Carla has a grating voice and lots of odd tics, and frequently seems puzzled when people try to converse with her. But she’s great with cars, and manages to impress even the gruff, irascible Chick, who is a retired mechanic himself. Though perpetually dissatisfied with Bone, he warms up to Carla, just the way he did with his other son, who was his favorite, but is now deceased. Bone is once again on the outside, looking in.
Fixing the car is a relatively simple matter. Fixing this troubled relationship … not so much. Grievances are aired, insults are hurled, temporary truces are struck.
Grimaldi does a good job at making his cranky character seem somewhat lovable; one of the play’s highlights is a sweet scene in which Chick teaches Carla how to jitterbug.
Daftsios, though, can’t do much with the one-dimensional Bone. And Bajou has the thankless task of playing a character so consistently weird it’s nearly impossible to delve deep; the weirdness is all you see.
DiIorio comes up with some good lines, as when the Chick maintains that even though he drinks all the time, he’s not an alcoholic, because alcoholics go to meetings. And, yes, having the Jag itself loom so large, both literally and figuratively, is a clever touch.
But it’s not enough. “The Jag” is ultimately about people, not a car, and Chick and Bone don’t seem like more than barely filled-in outlines of characters we’ve seen so many times before: the parent who stubbornly withholds love, and the child who eternally yearns for it.
“The Jag” is at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch through Feb. 12; visit njrep.org.