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This article by Jack florek was prepared for the October 24, 2001

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Review: `Jake’s Women’

Reality is a bummer," says Jake. "God, how

much better writing is."

Well, not in this case, but maybe you have to take what you get.

While there’s no denying that Neil Simon has written some fine plays,

("Brighton Beach Memoirs," "The Odd Couple" and

"Lost

in Yonkers," for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama),

"Jake’s

Women" is not one of them.

Chock full of cliched one-liners, a sappy story line, and offering

annoyingly sentimental solutions to life’s difficulties, it does not

make for a particularly auspicious opening to Bristol Riverside

Theatre’s

15th season. The fact that the quality of the production is (for the

most part) extremely wobbly sure doesn’t help either. The production

will continue through Sunday, October 28.

Jake (Stephen Schnetzer), a successful 53-year-old playwright, is

in the middle of a marriage crisis. After eight years, his wife Maggie

(Valerie Leonard) is fed up and is ready to walk out and leave the

marriage behind. One problem is that Jake is much better at relating

to characters in his imagination than in the less controlled world

of real life. But Maggie’s biggest problem is that Jake is still

obsessed

with his first wife, who was killed in an automobile accident 15 years

earlier.

But Jake doesn’t want his marriage with Maggie to end. Still mired

in his imagination (roughly 70 percent of the play takes place in

his head), Jake seeks advice from all the important women in his life,

including his deceased first wife Julie (Allison Nega), his daughter

Molly at age 12 (Catherine Cooper Haas) and age 21 (Rachel Boston),

his sister Karen (Terria Joseph), and his therapist (Jo Twiss).

Against his wishes, he and Maggie separate, and Jake struggles to

get on with his life by dating a women named Sheila (Cary Barker),

but again, the women in his head won’t leave him alone. Jake must

decide whether he wants to continue the fight to save his marriage,

look for someone new, or settle down to living a life in his

imagination.

As one would guess, there are autobiographical references in the play.

Simon claims to have written it as a gift to his daughter Nancy who

longed for the chance to spend more time with her deceased mother

Joan, Simon’s first wife (something similar happens in the play).

Simon also modeled the other characters on women he has known in his

personal life.

But for a semi-autobiographical play that places writing

and creativity so close to its core, "Jake’s Women" has very

little to say about the writing process. Jake’s imaginary encounters

with the women in his life, who all seem to share a fondness for

verbally

flogging him, seem more to suggest psychosis rather than artistic

prowess.

A major problem with the opening night performance, Thursday, October

11, at Bristol Riverside Theater, was that it was badly

under-rehearsed.

Whether or not this was a casualty of our new national jitters, actors

flubbed their lines again and again, or else stared blankly at one

another, grappling for their next line. While there may be a certain

perverse amusement for an audience to see a play in which that

"deer-in-the-headlights"

look of panic repeatedly flits across the actors’ faces, it certainly

doesn’t help the aesthetics of the show. It is no exaggeration to

suggest that the entire production could have used another week of

rehearsals.

Line difficulties aside, veteran soap-opera star Stephen Schnetzer

seems oddly out of place in the title role of Jake. Although it was

clear that he was working hard, too often it seemed that he allowed

the actor to get in the way of the character. Consequently, it was

difficult to tell if the slightly bemused expression he wore on his

face was an acting choice he’d made while crafting the character or

an indication of himself trying to slog his way through the rest of

the play.

Valerie Leonard, as Maggie, was another mixed bag. She was quite

charming

and free wheeling in the several comic bits, but had the odd habit

of delivering every serious line as if she were issuing some sort

of official proclamation. Similarly, Allison Nega as Julie seemed

quite believable as the sweet and innocent 21-year-old hippie, but

unconvincing when playing a woman in her mid-30s.

Terria Joseph and Jo Twiss turn in good performances as Jake’s sister

and therapist, respectively. They are both comfortable enough with

themselves and the material to know when to add a little oomph to

a comic line in order to get an extra laugh, or to tweak the maudlin

bits just enough to keep things from becoming too syrupy. Cary Barker

is also delightfully over-the-top in her one big scene as cktk. Rachel

Boston and Catherine Cooper Haas are solid in their performances as

Molly at different ages.

Outstanding in the production is Nels Anderson’s set design. Besides

being beautiful to look at, his design for Jake’s Soho apartment adds

depth to the play in a tastefully understated way. Using generally

muted colors enclosed in a huge grey tubular archway that is echoed

by a distant window looking out into a blue sky, Anderson draws a

nice picture of Jake struggling within his high-tech soul to find

a little light in his life.

"Jake’s Women" seems a bit like a missed opportunity. One

would have hoped that Bristol Riverside Theatre would have opened

their 15th season on a stronger note. There is an old saying that

marriage is a lot like baseball, meaning that it’s a long season,

and there’s always time to rally. Maybe that’s true for theater too.

— Jack Florek

Jake’s Women , Bristol Riverside Theater, 120

Radcliffe

Street, Bristol, 215-785-0100. Neil Simon comedy starring Stephen

Schnetzer as Jake, with Cary Barker, Rachel Boston, Catherine Cooper

Haas, Valerie Leonard, Terria Joseph, and Jo Twiss. Show runs to

October

28. $27 to $34.


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