note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Todd Olson
A Minority Report by Todd Olson
Let me get this out of the way right now: New Repertory Theatre's current production of "Jack and Jill" is exceptional, one of the best of the year on many fronts. Like New Rep's "Moon for the Misbegotten" last fall, Artistic Director Rick Lombardo and company prove that when you pick uncommon plays and cast uncommonly gifted actors, theatrical sparks fly.
"Jack and Jill" is above all a smart and articulate play which chronicles a relationship from beginning to end, and to beginning again. It deals with the modern hurdles of miscommunication, ground rules, dysfunction, double talk, and even political correctness. Lest this characterization make "Jack and Jill" seem kitschy or superficial, I should report that it is highly personal and thoroughly effecting. Though the psychobabble is sometimes a little tiresome, and the profanity a minor crutch, I admire the work for its ability to portray a man and a woman in an array of high- stakes, dynamic circumstances, all crafted in such a way that we care about them quite equally throughout. "Jack and Jill" is at once a shotgun blast of verbiage and a masterful balancing act.
Perhaps the most exceptional component of this event was the work by Cate Damon and Marc Carver who provided two of the tightest, most compelling performances in recent memory. These two actors were as swift as the overlapping text, wonderfully unpredictable, quirky, and lightening-quick. Damon and Carver not only worked each other over with admirable speed, confidence, and intimacy, they achieved a quality rare in live theatre - two actors that actually needed something from the audience. Their performances were active, immediate, vulnerable, and spontaneous. Both were engagingly specific, as when Damon demolished dozens of plates, methodically, one after another, or when Carver languished hungrily on the "x" in "complex" for great effect.
In the final scene when Jill confronts Jack with her offer, "I will be your mate," to which Jack answers, "No," I found myself in the unusual position of authentically caring about what might happen to this couple. His simple "No" rippled audibly across the audience. Their heartbreak had become the audience's heartbreak, and, though there is a hopeful ending that I won't divulge, their ultimate courage is also shared deeply with the audience.
The skill of this production owes much to playwright Jane Martin and director Rick Lombardo for the highly physical, highly verbal two hours. Really a kind of dance at times, "Jack and Jill" frequently left the audience fighting to keep up, never sure what exactly would be said next (the sure sign of a taut, smart work).
Janiel Fliegel's inventive set was comprised of shapes - rolling, hanging, moving shapes that eventually became a variety of other things. In Fliegel's industrious world, walls becomes tables, and chairs become beds. This master puzzle piece is as complex and overlapping as is the couple's story.
"Jack and Jill" runs until June 7 and rounds out New Rep's 13 season. With plays like "Scotland Road," "Having Our Say," and Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" on the docket for next year, not to mention new seats, New Rep audiences have a lot to look forward to in the future. That said, they should also relish this moment of theatrical triumph; you just don't see stuff this good that often.