‘The Jag’ a sweet ride at NJRep; Estelle Bajou gives incredible performance

Dan Grimaldi is the 70-year-old father Chick and Estelle Bajou is Carla, a genius car mechanic in "The Jag." (PHOTO: SuzAnne Barabas)
Dan Grimaldi is the 70-year-old father Chick and Estelle Bajou is Carla, a genius car mechanic in “The Jag.” (PHOTO: SuzAnne Barabas)

“The Jag” is a play about a broken man, his broken son, their broken 1967 Jaguar, and the socially challenged young woman who helps to fix all three.

Written by award-winning playwright Gino DiIorio, the world premiere of this 90-minute drama with lots of laughs continues at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch through Feb. 12. (Other plays of his that premiered here include “Release Point,” “Apostasy,” “Winterizing the Summer House” and “Dead Ringer.”)

Nicely directed by Brendan Burke, the play features Dan Grimaldi (best known for “The Sopranos” and seen here last in “Lucky Me”) as the 70-year-old father Chick who is so blind he can only kinda see you if he turns his head sideways. Christopher Daftsios (“Swimming at the Ritz” and “Substance of Bliss” here) is his son Bone, who has a serious gambling habit. Neither are skilled enough nor patient enough to fix the Jaguar — a real car — that dominates nearly half of the theater’s postage stamp-size stage designed by Jessica Parks to be a not-so-neat two-car garage.

Bone needs the car fixed fast because he has a buyer and he owes a guy  $15,000 from bad bets on college basketball and football games.

Chick’s plan had been to restore the car with his other son, who died. The longer he delays the longer he won’t have to accept his “good” son is gone forever. The more he drags his feet the more impatient, nervous and resentful the “bad” son Bone gets.

Enter Carla who is a genius at fixing Jaguars — but only Jaguars — from stem to stern. Estelle Bajou is a tour de force in her Rep debut. Her character, who is definitely on the autism spectrum, slightly rocks as she talks while avoiding eye contact, cringes at loud noises, doesn’t like to be touched, has a slightly annoying laugh, and unexpectedly pops up, in and around the car that’s often comical.

Bajou nails her character and it’s fascinating to watch her do it. I can’t wait until she comes back here and does it again. (If you attend one of the local  performing high schools or interested in studying acting, don’t miss this her performance. It’s extraordinary.)

Carla doesn’t understand idioms so when Chick says she’s “A few fries short of a happy meal,” it goes over her head. Being a girl doesn’t sit too well with Chick and that’s before he learns she’s a lesbian. And, she doesn’t drive because she afraid of all cars, except Jags. But, man, can she tune that engine, restore the dashboard, fix the dents, make the ol’ car shine and purr again.

Chick, who is drinking way to much way to early in the day, finally warms to Carla. But he’s an unhappy man and explodes in scary anger at her over nothing. And he pushes Bone to the breaking point so that he blurts out his dead brother’s hard-to-hear secrets.

Grimaldi’s gruffness and bravado as the old man who really doesn’t seem to like his nervous, loser son neatly done by Daftsios, balance each other well.

Ultimately, this new work by DiIorio makes for a sweet ride.

THE DETAILS

“The Jag” continues Thursdays, Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through Feb. 12 at New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch. Tickets $46. Group and student rates available. For tickets and additional information call 732-229-3166 or visit www.njrep.org

This review first was published in the Two River Times.

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