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This article by Jack florek was prepared for the October 24, 2001
of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
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
in Yonkers," for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama),
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
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
with his first wife, who was killed in an automobile accident 15 years
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
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
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
flogging him, seem more to suggest psychosis rather than artistic
A major problem with the opening night performance, Thursday, October
11, at Bristol Riverside Theater, was that it was badly
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
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
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
Valerie Leonard, as Maggie, was another mixed bag. She was quite
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
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
28. $27 to $34.
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