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Jake's Women

a Comedy
CATEGORY :
by Neil Simon

COMPANY : Kudzu Playhouse [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Kudzu Playhouse [WEBSITE]
ID# 3612

SHOWING : January 15, 2010 - February 14, 2010

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

America's premier comic playwright makes another hilarious foray into the world of modern relationships. Jake, a novelist who is more successful with fiction that with life, faces a marital crisis by daydreaming about the women in his life. The wildly comic and sometimes moving flashbacks played in his mind are interrupted by visitations from actual females. Jake's women include a revered first wife who was killed years earlier in an accident, his daughter who is recalled as a child but is now a young woman, his boisterous and bossy sister, an opinionated analyst, his current wife who is leaving Jake for another man, and a prospective third wife.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Sheila Oliver
Stage Manager Amy Kroessig
Assistant Director Larken McCord
Karen Linda Clay Niles
Sheila Lory Cox
Molly (at 21) Allison Johnson
Julie Melissa Manwaring
Jake Brink Miller
Molly (at 12) Bridget Pettit
Edith Amy Rundbaken Smith
Maggie Barbara Scott Sherry
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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Unintended Consequences
by Dedalus
Thursday, January 28, 2010
3.5
Kudzu Playhouse’s “Jake’s Women” is my second exposure to “Jake” (and the womenfolk who populate his imagination) in less than five months, and, as with prior productions, it is a mixed bag of gentle comedy, quiet rumination, and uncomfortable self-reflection. It is also a mixed bag of good-to-excellent choices by production (and playwright), with some choices of a more questionable nature.

To bring you up-to-date, let me slightly rewrite what I wrote in my PR piece for last September’s production at Polk Street Players:

“Jake’s Women” is Neil Simon in a low-key reflective mode (some would say self-indulgent). It is essentially the story of a writer whose second marriage is “on the rocks” due to his inability to “let go” of his dead first wife (sound familiar?). Jake is onstage throughout, interacting mostly with imagined projections of the women in his life, wrestling with what it’s going to take to save his marriage, even deciding if he wants to save it.

As a character study, this is a nice choice, since the entire play is about what’s inside of Jake’s head. On the other hand, since Simon mines the situation for humor, we see Jake interacting with his visions and with real women at the same time, leading to confusion and misunderstandings. Good for humor, but it leaves us with the impression that Jake is, in fact, clinically schizophrenic – he “sees” his imagined visions. I don’t think this is what Simon wants us to think, but, it’s his sandbox, so we have to play in the castles he built.

In addition, Simon puts a few too many banal observations and clunky phrases into the mouth of what is supposed to be a writer. “Reality is a bummer.” “Life is Life.” These are phrases that any writer worth his salt would never even put into a first draft. As imaginative as Jake is, his words come across as distinctively unimaginative, lacking in imagery and music and metaphor.

In spite of that, I’ve always found this an intriguing, often wryly funny, and ultimately moving account of grief and healing. This is the fifth production of it I’ve seen, and, as expected, the scenes with the vision of Jake’s dead first wife (Julie) are moving (they may, in fact, be “actor-proof”). In one, Julie and Jake relive their first “morning after” with all the glow (and loss) that that memory entails. In the second, Jake imagines Julie meeting their now-grown daughter (Molly). Both of these scenes are among Simon’s best, and will perhaps be the emotional highlight of your experience with this production.

Kudzu’s production is, as said, a mixed bag. A few casting choices have some unintended consequences that, though not fatal, are nevertheless distracting. Chief among these is the casting of Brink Miller as Jake. Mr. Miller gives an excellent, even nuanced performance. He gives Jake all the charm required to take us over the questionable and self-indulgent stuff he has to say and do; finding this charm is essential to making the play work. But, Mr. Miller is also much too old for the part. Jake is supposed to be 58, and Mr. Miller comes across as at least 15 years older than that. Truth to tell, this casts a somewhat “icky” veneer over his love scenes with the twenty-something Melissa Manwaring as Julie, and his comment about “wanting to hump” the thirty-something Amy Runbaken-Smith as Edith.

Barbara Scott Sherry also gives a nice performance as Jake’s wife Maggie, and, truth to tell, they work well as a couple. But, Ms. Sherry is a bit too soft around the edges to fully convince us she’s the fitness-obsessed, constantly exercising Maggie. Of course rthis is a first impression only, and disappears once the two engage in their passive-aggressive battles.

On the other hand, Bridget Petit and Alison Brock Johnson are fully convincing as the young and older Molly, quite believable as the same character at two different points in life. And Lory Cox’s Sheila is hysterically funny, exuding a dim-bulb innocence that is actually refreshing in the middle of all this New York intellectual self-analysis.

The set is a nice and sparse apartment, with grey “limbo” entrances for the imagined characters, and with a nice “sanctum sanctorum” office space for Jake to hide in. A seemingly purposeless second easy chair offers some sightline issues, but that’s really the only flaw in the design. The lights too are functional, despite some upstage dimness.

In the final analysis, though, this production does what it is supposed to. It offers some fine performances in a piece that moves and amuses in equal proportion and lets us, indeed welcomes us, into the mind of Jake and, by extension, Neil Simon. It is a crowd-pleaser, and, in spite of some of my better instincts, it is a Dedalus-pleaser as well.

I suppose at some point, though, we may want to discuss those unintended consequences of unexpected casting choices. Sometimes they may add previously unimagined dimension or nuance to a production. Other times, they may distract with a little unwanted queasiness. Here, they are minor enough to keep the show afloat.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)


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