I seldom leave the theater thinking, gee, I wish that had been a lot longer. But that's exactly what I thought about Jack Finnegan's marvelous new solo show City Love Song: Home, which plays a too-brief engagement at 59e59 this month. Jack has done something that most of us only dream of: he embarked on a tour, on his own, of thirteen cities all around the world. At each stop he performed a version of his previous show, City Love Song, bringing stories of a similar journey he made a couple of years ago to cities and towns in the United States to a new audience who may never have heard of Fargo, North Dakota or Atlanta, Georgia and very possibly didn't speak English. Mostly, though, he soaked up sights and cultures that were just as alien to him. And now he's back home, as his show's title reminds us, to share what he learned and did with his fellow New Yorkers.
Jack chose an eclectic collection of destinations!: Guatemala City to Santiago to Rio de Janeiro to Marrakech to Berlin to Istanbul to Cape Town to New Delhi to Shanghai to Tokyo to Brisbane to Melbourne to Vancouver. (The program helpfully includes a map of his travels.) In each 85 minute show, he explains at the outset, he can only talk about 5 or 6 of them; it means that we get to hear about some of the cities in rich, vivid detail, but it also means we leave hungry for more. This is a show that needs to be planted in a welcoming venue for a long run, so Jack's (presumably growing) cadre of fans can return to hear more of his experiences.
What's special about City Love Song: Home is that it is story telling, pure and simple and utterly unfettered. No projctions, no slides, no sound effects (except the ones Jack occasionally makes himself), no set; just words, beautifully chosen and thoughtfully delivered by the playwright/performer, who wears a comfortable-looking outfit designed by Geoffrey Young. The director, Tralen Doler, has undoubtedly enriched the work but his mark on it is absolutely invisible, which is meant as the highest of praise.
So, the words: vibrant, lyrical, and loaded with imagery so precise that every moment of the play yields some kind of picture in the mind's eye. This is theater in its most elemental form, what Homer must have done; it engages us deeply because it's so full of give and take between the actor and the audience. When he talks about a place you've been to (which unfortunately happened to me only a few times in this show, since I've hardly left America's shores in my life), the happy recognition of fellow travelers in the room is palpable. When he talks about cities or countries you've only read about on the news or in an almanac, the portrait is breathtaking in its richness and rigor.
So we journey with Jack to a mountain in Rio de Janeiro where on one side is a squalid, sprawling slum and on the other is an array of mansions surrounded by walls with peacocks in the gardens. Or to a sort of outdoor food court in Guatemala City, where Jack orders too much for lunch and learns a first lesson about Guatemalan manners. Or to the Gandhi Museum in New Delhi, where Jack describes for us a small shelf containing the last possessions of the great Indian spiritual/political leader.
By the end, we are enlarged by Jack's generous humanity, a gift that served him well on his trip and that has enabled him to bring home such moving stories of what he constantly reminds us is this planet we all share. (Jack's prodigious gifts as poet and raconteur serve him well, also, of course.) I was—still am—hungry for more. Where will Jack Finnegan take us next?