Jersey Stories by Jonathan Calindas is a double bill of two of his plays, The 4AM ‘Lizabeth, which was written as the thesis for his playwriting minor in college, and Gray Guitars, the first play written after he graduated. In speaking of The 4AM ‘Lizabeth the author’s intent was to “write a play that captured the spirit of the town as well as the people who live there.” This can be applied to Gray Guitars as well and he pretty much accomplishes what he sets out to do.
In The 4AM ‘Lizabeth, the first play of the evening, Mr. Calindas gives us three men, hanging out on the tracks in the early hours of the morning, waiting for the ghost train like they used to do in high school. As they sit around drinking beer and discussing their lives past and present, we learn that each has a major issue in his life that he must deal with. Jay has just learned that his girlfriend is pregnant, Jerry is dealing with the loss of his father, and Eddie is dealing with AIDS.
Mario Corrales gives a fine if sometimes understated performance as Jay, showing the confusion of someone forced to finally take responsibility. Robert Steffen’s Jerry is outstanding. Mr. Steffen shows us someone who seems completely in control, telling his friends they should grow up, until finally he just breaks down under the pressure of trying to be what his family wants and what he thinks he should be. He reaches right down into the depths of the character and shows us the scared young man underneath.
Most of the action in the play centers around and is sparked by Eddie. He is the one who wants to wait for the ghost train that derailed in the twenties and according to local legend, can occasionally be seen making its fateful run, always taking someone with it when it does. As Eddie, the gawky, innocent, and sometimes annoying friend that we all have, Rodney Reyes gives an energetic and also endearing performance as he jumps around the tracks, takes pictures for the scrapbook and throws the football around. It becomes poignant when we find out why he is making a scrapbook.
The second play of the evening, Gray Guitars, takes place on the roof of a West Village apartment building as two of the tenants, Mark and Alyssa, strike up a curious friendship. Mark is contemplating suicide because his best friend since first grade has just died and the friendship was left unresolved and Alyssa, a would be writer has just found out that her lover, Antonio, has just gone home to Rome to get married. She is working on a novel about a songwriter driving cross-country with Dylan’s famous guitar and trying to find himself. She has loosely based this character on herself although she hotly denies it at first.
As they talk, they see that they are both trying to find themselves and they strike up a curious friendship. Brian Seuffert, as the suicidal, highly neurotic Mark, and Schoen Smith as the knowing, somewhat quirky Alyssa, both give wonderful, highly effective performances. One would hope that Mr. Calindas would develop Gray Guitars a little more because although the characters are well written it ends just as we begin to become really involved in their problems.
All in all, in Jersey Stories, Jonathan Calindas gives us an engaging evening full of characters, whom we come to care about as they struggle to define themselves in a world where things don’t usually happen the way we planned. It will be interesting to see how his future work develops.