Jack Gallagher specializes in both transparency and personal oral history.
That he adds funny details, layering into his stories measured moments of sentimentality without becoming self-indulgent, makes him a master of his craft. The writer-performer puts this all on display in his appealing new one-man show, "Complete and Unfinished," which had its world premiere Sunday night at the B Street Theatre.
This is the fifth in a series of autobiographical one-man plays Gallagher has written, beginning with "Letters to Declan" (1993), followed by "Just the Guy" (2002), "What He Left" (2006) and "A Different Kind of Cool"(2010).
Here Gallagher, with co- directors Buck Busfield and Jerry Montoya, gives the new work a meta-theatrical frame that shows him building the play by brainstorming ideas on a set that resembles his home office.
Staring at an empty bulletin board, Gallagher starts throwing out ideas that he writes on color-coded index cards and tacks on the board, hitting upon the twin constants in his life: music and home. The device works in fits and starts, but pales in comparison with a more organic sense of story Gallagher delivers in the play.
The former stand-up comic talks about turning 60 this year and the fact that more of life is behind him than in front of him. He's come to a point where he's looking at how he got to where he is rather than planning where he's going. It's a poignant and powerful moment that could have logically ordered the loosely connected, cross-cutting memories that flood the two-act play.
As it is, Gallagher moves through major moments in his life, creating a rough chronology beginning with his Irish American heritage in Massachusetts. There are amusing riffs on Catholicism and his immersion in the small Irish community in which he grew up. Then he mines one of the play's richest themes his ongoing love of popular music.
Gallagher talks about sitting at his father's feet in their darkened living room, listening to Andy Williams, Tony Bennett and other popular singers of the day. He discovers 45s, then eventually LPs. Gallagher basks in the familiar sequences of songs that become imbedded in his consciousness, like the memorable flow of music on the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's" album.
Gallagher reveals himself as true aficionado, studying liner notes and digging into the artistry of Michael Nesmith, Gram Parsons and Steely Dan.
After high school and a dalliance at community college, Gallagher took off on a see-the-country road trip with a friend. While the trip's adventures and mishaps make up an entertaining chunk of the first act, it's the end of the trip that galvanizes the play. On his first day back home he meets Jean Ellen Dunn, the woman who will become his wife.
"Jean Ellen was the first person I could tell everything in the world to," Gallagher says.
In the second half of the play, Gallagher relates his development as a comedian and his rise to national prominence with the support and inspiration of his wife. The strands of stories come and go, with Gallagher's affability and storytelling skills not just holding the play together, but giving a certain emotional coherence to the ideas.
In the end, Gallagher circles back to familiar themes of fatherhood and family, engaging the audience with his moving sense of honesty and emotion as he deals with the "random events" of his life.
COMPLETE AND UNFINISHED
★ ★ ★
What: Jack Gallagher's new one-man show
When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 5 and 9 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays, through Feb. 24
Where: B Street Theatre Mainstage, 2711 B St., Sacramento
Tickets: $23-$35, $5 students
Running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes including one intermission.
Information: (916) 443-5300, www.bstreettheatre.org