City Love Song

Written and performed by Jack Finnegan
Directed by Tralen Doler
59E59 Americas Off Broadway, 59 East 59th Street
production web site:

May 3 — May 15, 2011

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
May 3, 2011

  • “you can never see what’s coming through the window of a train”
  • (about Detroit) “who fell by the wayside while we were all watching”
  • (about New Orleans) “beautiful buildings with so much to think about in between”
  • (about New York) “a city is as a symphony un-conducted”
Jack Finnegan. Photo by Nina Segal.

I love a great travel story.  I love images of cities and towns and countryside passing by in literature and in film, in the course of books like On the Road and Blue Highways and movies based on them.   Choose from any of these travel yarns as old as myth and legend, in Western literature as The Canterbury Tales (and older). Let’s face it: as soon as creatures with any language gathered round a fire and told of wandering beyond the encampment, we have had tales of places seen and adventures had and comparisons made.  This kind of theatrical experience in storytelling across America is provided by our engaging and very American narrator raconteur in two acts of rapid paced images and experiences that he indeed had and did not imagine.  City Love Song.

Jack Kerouac‘s narrative ride in On The Road is figuratively (and sometimes literally) in the front seat at night with headlights illuminating swaths of highway straight ahead. Jack Finnegan gives us in City Love Song stories culled from his adventures by train and on foot in 24 American cities (in the first act) and the largest American city (the second act’s love ballad to the underground and back streets of New York City).  Finnegan reflects at one point on the lateral focus of train travel: “you can never see what’s coming through the window of a train”.  By whatever means of travel between points, our narrator provides specific and rich and wondrous descriptive adventures in observation.  (And as a person who has lived in many of the cities he tells tales about — Boston, Chicago, Washington D.C., New York, Philadelphia — and has visited all the others, I can say that his observations feel true and earned.)

Finnegan, as directed by Tralen Doler,  moves freely in the first act around the black box Theater C on 59E59‘s 3rd floor, and stands (at least at my performance) at a music stand for the second act.  As a storyteller, a performer, he is engaging.  As a writer, he captures something real and hopeful and full and truthful about his selected and wide variety of American cities.  He plans to take this show on the road around the world sometime after the present engagement.  I know that I am quite thrilled that stories like these will be among those told about us to our world neighbors.  I feel heard and well represented amid the sorrow and fear and hope and clear description and open-eyed wonder of this piece.

© Martha Wade Steketee (May 5, 2011)

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