The funeral of a dog is the catalyst for Dennis Flanagan's quietly affecting and absurdly funny new play Bella and the Pool Boy, at the 4th Street Theatre. It's what brings Will (played by Flanagan) back to his childhood home in Central New Jersey, where he comes face to face with the life he desperately wants to leave behind, but which he can never really escape.
Will reunites with mother Kathy (Dina Ann Comolli), sister Cindy (Gwynneth Benson), former best friend Calvin (Curran Connor), and ex-girlfriend Danielle (Megan Raye Manzi), falling into familiar patterns with each of them. At the same time, he seems determined to sabotage his familial ties, as well as endanger his relationship with current girlfriend Anna (Samantha Ivers).
Flanagan is certainly not afraid to show what a jerk Will can be, and yet he somehow manages to make the character consistently sympathetic. Connor, whose Calvin is the now-middle-aged pool boy of the play's title, starts out the show as a seemingly one-note character, but reveals layers in his portrayal as the production goes on.
The play takes a surreal turn when the dead dog's body turns up missing, and her spirit comes to address the audience. As Bella, Carrie Watt does a fine job in conveying a dog-like eagerness without overdoing it. Moreover, a pivotal scene in which a disguised Bella visits Will is charmingly performed and has the emotional heft that it requires.
-- Dan Bacalzo