John Lennon once sang “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” To a guy like Thomas DaGato, though, life is what happens while you’re waiting to go to the next Springsteen show. At the start of “Long Gone Daddy,” he talks about one magical night with The Boss, even detailing the concert’s inspired opening sequence, as if it’s seared into his brain: “Badlands” to open, followed by “Adam Raised a Cain” and “She’s the One.”
“Long Gone Daddy,” a one-man show that is basically a monologue by DaGato, is currently having its world premiere at the Mile Square Theatre in Hoboken, with its writer, Joseph Gallo, playing the semi-autobiographical character (who first appeared in Gallo’s “My Italy Story”). DaGato’s a likable guy, but is in no hurry to grow up. Between Springsteen shows, though, he is tested, by unemployment, and a house fire, and, most critically, by the birth of his first child.
The phrase “Long Gone Daddy,” which appears in the Springsteen song “Born in the USA,” doesn’t really have anything to with fatherhood. But fatherhood is the mountain that DaGato must climb — at one point, he says he’s in search of the “mystical title, Dad” — in this low-key, unassuming play, which rings true in all the most important ways.
A photo of the Hoboken train station is projected onto the back wall of the theater at the start of the play, to set the mood. References, throughout the evening, to local landmarks like Maxwell’s, the W Hotel, the Stone Pony and the New Jersey Turnpike’s Vince Lombardi Service Area help establish the character’s Jersey authenticity.
Though it’s a one-man play, Gallo must bring other characters to life, too, and he does that successfully through DaGato’s stories about his long-suffering wife (who, at one point, tells him to stop whining) and his salt-of-the-earth fireman father.
DaGato’s story is a realistic one: Just about any parent could relate to it. But there’s magic there, too, in the way he eventually blossoms, much to his own surprise, into the responsible father he wants to be. And, even more magically, in the way he’s able to maintain a connection to his youthful glory days. Since as long as there’s a ticket available and a relative free to watch the baby, Springsteen is still out there, on a stage, offering as much transcendence and joy as ever.
“Long Gone Daddy” runs through Aug. 7; visit milesquaretheatre.org.
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