by Sheldon Gleisser
Saw "Jack & Jill" at Red Herring Theater. Produced with minimal staging and a certain amount of fourth wall-breaking monologs and costuming, the play traces a romantic relationship from start to end.
Rick Clark is Jack, who so uncomfortably makes the first move on the cynical Jill (Michelle Weiser) who he finds in a library, that I thought this play might quickly become some prescient "Me, Too!" movement story.
Oh, that poor Jack could have simply been slapped across the face, perhaps teaching him to better read unconscious signals. Instead, the next scene finds the two involved enough for sex despite his nervous warnings of impotence and her red flags too numerous to count. And as this couple goes from marriage, to break-up, to beyond break-up, and then BEYOND beyond break-up, you sometimes find yourself wanting to stand up and yell, "for God's sake STOP!"
I don't know that I can call "Jack and Jill" a romantic comedy, although there are funny things in it. One might call it a romantic drama, or use that dreaded hybrid label "dramady." Whatever you finally call it, this play is profoundly set apart from most tales of couple-hood.
From "Romeo and Juliet" through as recent a film as the Seth Rogen-Charlize Theron starrer "Long Shot," the audience is implicitly invited to say to themselves, "these two should be together! I hope they can get past the FILL IN THE BLANK that is keeping them apart!" Not so here. You are rooting, almost from the first scene, for the relationship to be euthanized. In fact, I think the play should have ended a scene earlier than it did, just to give the audience some faint glimmer of hope that Jack won’t one day find it within himself to beat Jill to death with a ball peen hammer.
Patrick Clark is excellent as Jack. He plays the character with great commitment, although you often wish he would find someone, almost anyone else, or save up enough money for a twice monthly visit to a hooker. Michelle Weiser is also terrific, even though from the start, she made me think of the ad line for the movie "The Omen:" "You have been warned!" Jill is brittle and cynical, proudly broadcasting that she thinks romantic love is a fiction. She's a woman who really should be left alone, to the point that one wonders how Jack got to be as old as he is and yet remain as idealistic as a puppy.
Michael Herring directs his actors well, and keeps things moving at a good pace, even if one is sometimes squirming in his or her seat. Herring's minimalist scene design, along with Kurt Mueller's lighting and David Edwards' sound, give the play an almost cinematic feel, able to jump from library, to bedroom, even to jogging trail with nary a problem.
I give "Jack & Jill" kudos for being rather genre-busting, even though thanks to its final scene, I'm not sure how intentional that was on the part of playwright Jane Martin. "Jane Martin" may in fact be a pseudonym, meaning the playwright's gender might not actually be female, which could explain a lot. I say don't go in expecting "Barefoot in the Park," but check it out.
"Jack & Jill" is playing now through June 16, Thursday-Saturday at 8 PM, Sunday at 2 PM at the Franklinton Playhouse, 566 West Rich street. Go to redherring.com or call (614) 723-9116 for tickets.
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