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Current play is Finocchiaro's final at MSU Mankato

Popular theater instructor wraps tenure at Minnesota State Mankato with Neil Simon comedy -- heading for U. of Tampa next.

Tanner Kent, Mankato Free Press 6-23-2013

MANKATO — The pace of production in Minnesota State University’s Department of Theatre and Dance is red hot and unrelenting.

With a combination of 10 mainstage and studio shows, as well as two dance con­certs and four summer productions, MSU’s schedule is among the most ambitious in the country. From the first day of fall semester -- in which MSU’s department is among the few that are daring enough to hold student auditions -- right through to the final curtain on the fourth and final Highland Summer Theatre show, there are few opportunities to stop and reflect.

But with Neil Simon’s lesser-known comedic drama “I Ought to be in Pictures” up next (from June 25-29) on the Highland schedule, director Paul Finocchiaro has found himself in a rare position.

 “We only have three actors in this show,” he said. “ That gives me the luxury of playing around a bit. Having a little easier piece gives me so much more freedom.” 

The previous Highland show Finocchiaro directed -- the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical revue “A Grand Night for Singing” that opened earlier this month -- included a cast at least twice as big as well as 37 musical numbers and live orchestration. Simon’s “I Ought to be in Pictures,” however, is a more focused, emotional affair that explores the strained reunion between an absent, screenwriter father and his aspiring actress daughter.

The play has been praised for its heartfelt portrayal of rekindled family bonds but never matched the popularity of some his award­winning works. Finocchiaro said the piece is one of the more mature in the Simon canon but that it yields nothing of the playwright’s trademark wit and verbal ballast.

“It’s got the humor, but not the hysterics and the wackiness,” Finocchiaro said. “But it has a ton of heart and that’s what drew me to the piece.”

The production will also mark Finoc­chiaro’s last as a member of MSU’s theatre department. The popular instructor who is well-known for his ebullient personality -- MSU students know well his mantra, which also serves as his email footer: “Positivity promotes creativity” -- is departing in August for a position in the University of Tampa’s theatre department.

Even as he’s in the midst of directing MSU’s upcoming play, he’s also packing his belongings and preparing for the long move. Though Finocchiaro said he’s emotionally prepared for the transition, he also antici­pates a long goodbye.

“When the show closes on Saturday night, I’m going to stay and strike the set,” Finoc­chiaro said, referencing the term theatre professionals use to describe the deconstruc­tion of a stage production immediately after the final show. “I just want to take it all in.”

The entire version of this story can be read in a print copy of the Mankato Free Press.  Call the Mankato Free Press at 625-4451 or (800) 657-4662 to find out how to purchase a print copy.  The Free Press also prints select stories online at

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