For Mom and Dad

What He Left

Jack Gallagher, awash in memories.

Jack Gallagher, awash in memories.

Rated 4.0

Solo performer and longtime Sacramentan Jack Gallagher returns with his third autobiographical show. In a number of ways, it’s similar to—but also different from—Gallagher’s much-admired Letters to Declan, a heartwarming piece about embarking on fatherhood at 40, which moved Gallagher from stand-up comedy into the world of theater.

Gallagher, now in his 50s, works the other end of life’s transitions in What He Left. It’s a memoir about Gallagher’s parents, his father in particular, steeped in childhood memories. It includes their passing and the sale of the old family home in New England.

Gallagher uses his skills as a storyteller, and his sense of timing with a punch line, in a mosaic pattern. He describes his induction into the cult of Red Sox fandom and talks about what it meant to come from an Irish Catholic background or what it felt like, as an adult, to return home and see Mom and Dad from a different perspective. Learning to see past his father’s gruff exterior is a recurring theme—one that many can relate to.

Family pictures, displayed on video screens hanging from the ceiling, and the voice of Gallagher’s father are woven into the performance. The old guy liked to record his thoughts on tape; his often salty remarks are like dabs of hot mustard in this show. There are also comic change-of-pace excursions from the father-son saga, including a wincingly funny routine about seeking medical treatment for a swollen testicle.

What He Left is carefully staged under Buck Busfield’s direction. The set by Ron Madonia recalls the front of an old house. The lights in the windows brighten and dim, and Gallagher spends part of the show in a comfy chair that looks like it spent decades in the family room.

This is not a “play” in every sense. It’s hard to imagine anyone but Gallagher even attempting this material, mostly because it wouldn’t work if it didn’t feel utterly sincere. But whatever you decide to call it, What He Left is a solid, well-crafted show. See it, and you’ll be glad you went.