Maynard's Acme Theater stages Jack Neary's comedy "First Night."
Here's the story. Boy meets girl. Eighth grade. Boy falls hard for her. He just can't get the words out. Shy, you know? Oh yeah, he's fat, she's really pretty.
Danny never forgets Meredith, but time doesn't wait for him. Some 20 years pass. Yes, they meet up again on New Year's Eve at a video store where he works. She's become a nun, but has taken a leave of absence to sort out her life. One thing she didn't like was that the head nuns refused to let her bowl, which she's pretty good at. She even won a tournament, winning some money and a bottle of Jack Daniel's.
She gives the money to the poor and uses the bottle of booze for a door stop.
Oh, and it turns out that Meredith had a bit of crush on Danny all the time. She even hunts him down. And so the play turns ... and turns.
"There had been a fleeting moment between them (when they were young), but nobody said anything," says Gordon Ellis who plays Danny.
Welcome to "First Night," Lowell playwright Jack Neary's comedy now playing at Maynard's award-winning Acme Theater. "It's a funny, basic story of a guy unable to express his feelings to a woman he really, really loves," says Neary, one of the busiest playwrights, actors and directors in New England.
"There was a potential for romance that they weren't able to explore," says Jennifer McCartney, the female lead in the two-character show. "Honestly, I hadn't read the play when I went to the audition. When I left, I had a better sense of who she was. There are so many layers to her. She has a lot of ambition. She's spunky. She's fearless, but at the same time romantic."
Maynard resident McCartney can actually walk to the theater. The mother of three, McCartney and her husband, John, moved from Seattle to Maynard. "We were renting in Framingham, then we found Maynard. We loved it, the downtown, the history."
Acting was something "I always adored," says McCartney, although she got off to a slow start. She did some high school plays, then stepped up to community theater. In Seattle she hired an agent and was in some commercials. Her day job was project manager for a multimedia company.
McCartney still longed to get back on the boards. "Then there was a big gap," she says. After all, her kids are 7, 5 and 2. She's a stay-at-home mom.
How convenient then that she should wind up in the Acme neighborhood. She discovered the theater in 2001. Her first show was "Breaking Legs," which put her in the company of Acme's founder and reigning impresario Dave Sheppard.
"He's fantastic," says McCartney. "He's so generous to anyone who comes in and works for him." McCartney has run the sound and lighting boards at Acme.
Two-actor shows can be tricky. McCartney and Waltham resident Ellis had worked in "Breaking Legs," so there was a reference of familiarity. "I have an enormous amount of trust in Gordon," she says. "I'm blessed. He's so talented."
Sheppard says there's a great chemistry between the actors.
Ellis says, "I went through what Danny goes through 10 years ago," so playing this part smacks somewhat of a flashback. "The character connected to me in that time of my life. I was single. Aimless. Now I'm in my 30s and still single." Still searching.
Neary watched a rehearsal and was impressed. "I wrote the show 20 years ago for a friend of mine, Maryann Plunkett, but she wasn't able to do it." Plunkett went on to win a Tony for "Me And My Girl."
Neary says "First Night" isn't "necessarily autobiographical," but what goofy boy hasn't been rendered speechless in the presence of a pretty young thing? "I think the show resonates because it's comical," says Neary, "but it hits home too."
Neary has just about done it all in theater. Primarily though, "I call myself a playwright. I'm scared to death of acting."
He's a nervous wreck watching one of his plays.
"My biggest thrill is standing in back of the theater and listening to the audience laugh."
They've been howling at "First Night" for 20 years. In its latest incarnation, the laughter ripples through Acme Theater. Go hear for yourself.
"First Night" runs at the Acme Theater, 61 Summer St., Maynard, through Dec. 8. Tickets are $16/$14 and can be purchased by calling 978-823-0003.