Ghosts of Saturday Night

“When you’re writing, you’re conjuring.  It’s a ritual, and you need to be brave and respectful and sometimes get out of the way of whatever it is that you’re inviting into the room.”- Tom Waits.  And so Matthew Casella, as the persona Jack Bellows has created a mysterious, magical, and mystifying evening full of meaning and memory.  As he puts after his opening number, “it is an evening full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”  And if you quote Macbeth you have my eternal love (just an FYI).

The one-man show at Mercury Theater is the brainchild of Casella.  As his pragmatic alter ego Jack Bellows, he weaves a tale of going west to seek fame and fortune in Hollywood.  He speaks of missed opportunities, lessons learned, and the hard knocks we often take working in theater and performing arts.  But his story is so well told, so captivating, it is hard to believe him sometimes.  Jack Bellows might be a wash up who didn’t amount to much more than a nomination as supporting actor, but Matthew Casella is spellbinding.  The way he moves about the space is intimate and calculated.  He is a seasoned performer and a natural showman and those qualities make this 55-minute solo speech fly by.  Honestly, I could have stayed and listened to him longer.

As Jack falls in love, with “Martha” of course, and she breaks his heart, he moves forward and tries to find a place for himself.  Casella was inspired by the music of Waits, and weaves the songs seamlessly into the night’s monologue.  In fact, he is so good at spouting off Tom Waits music, sometimes I couldn’t tell where Jack Bellows’ tale ends and Waits’ poetry begins.  I did some research on Waits before attending, and I have to tell you I appreciate the poetic nature of his lyrics and his existential feel, but I think the night of theater I witnessed was superior to the quality of music I sampled on Spotify.

The space is a small black box, working perfectly for this cozy production.  The lighting is simple, Jack himself flips off and on a projector for shadow boxing and a small lamp at timed intervals.  His use of theatrical convention felt fresh, even when I knew where he was going.  I appreciated the small props that made the scene grounded and believable- a simple phone or confetti.  The clothing rack on the side allows him to change attire as his story progresses.

He comes full circle in the end with the ocean accepting him today, and what he has to offer.  A bleak outlook at the end of life that reminded me or Prufrock as he walks on the beach, “I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear the bottom of my trousers rolled.” Jack might be giving up in his old folks home and waiting for life to end, but Casella is in his prime, and you should go see him before he makes a move for a bigger venue. “All they will find is my beer and my shirt.”  And hopefully, a memory of a enticing performance.

SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?  This is the shit dreams are made of.  A man, and a plan, and action.  This is amazing.  It is enthralling.  If you are a fan of Tom Waits, go see this and play a game called “can I guess the next song tie in.”  If you aren’t a fan, go and relish in the poetry, the story, the confessions of a kind-hearted degenerate.  And don’t forget to BYOB.

Runs March 8th – March 17th at the Mercury Theater.

Runs March 8th– March 17th at the Mercury Theater.

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