Written in the 90s,
Jerry Finnegan’s Sister is comfort-food theatre of the highest order.
Most of what we see though happens before this moment. Brian, speaking directly to the audience, guides us through his 16-year acquaintance with Beth Finnegan, from the time he was seven up until now. Monologues alternate with short scenes of dialogue between the two characters, charting the development of their relationship.
It’s nothing fancy but it provides the framework for encouraging investment in the two characters. Brian (John Berner) is sympathetically awkward, honest and hilarious while Beth (Haley Nemeth) is forthcoming and adorably sincere. Though neither really nail the physicality of the childhood scenes, as they grow older both embody their parts and drive the story with convincing comedy.
This humour is crucial to the success of the production. To maintain a comparison, the relatively simplistic love stories in Friends are effective because the audience has endeared to the characters’ comic shenanigans. Similarly, it’s the consistent application of jokes, mostly at poor Brian’s expense, that lay the groundwork for this play’s romantic storyline. The plot gains emotional currency by giving you reason to believe they should end up together.
Jerry Finnegan’s Sister isn’t a groundbreaking work incorporating physical theatre and multimedia techniques. It doesn’t push genre conventions or subvert standard storytelling techniques. It plays with time but only in a way Tennessee Williams had already figured out when he wrote Glass Menagerie.
Unlike many things at the Fringe, it’s not new but you don’t always need ‘new’. Sometimes you just want to watch old stories with new names. It’s comforting and relaxing, and during a month that has been described as ‘incredibly stressful’ by almost everyone involved, Jerry Finnegan’s Sister is comfort-food theatre of the highest order.