Sunday, February 14, 2016

Jack and Jill A Romance by Jane Martin

Robert Standley and Tanna Frederick - Photos: Adrien Carr

By Joe Straw

Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after.

They were young, so very young.

Jack, a small boy in kaki shorts with an active imagination, wanted to impress a little girl in a frilly embroidered dress, by taking his empty wooden bucket up the hill to “fetch” a pail of water.

Jill, knowing that wasn’t the way, followed Jack anyway. Jill had enough sense to know that the water was always at the bottom of the hill, but kept quiet and enjoyed his way.    

Young Jack suddenly realized, through observation, that he had misjudged the water in the elevated space.  There was no spigot, fountain, or water magically pouring out from the trunk of the tree but he didn’t want Jill to know that he had made a mistake.

So, Jack dropped the bucket, got his foot entangled in the handle, fell, and plunged much farther than expected.

Jill, deeply in love, saw Jack rolling down the hill and well, by now, it’s too late, Jack is rolling faster than Jill can keep up.  She stumbles, trying to catch him, slightly causing him to change his direction when his head rolls onto a rock, breaking his nose. 

Crying and bleeding, Jack runs home, leaving Jill with an empty bucket and thinking that it all could have been avoided if she had only used her words.  – Narrator

They were young, well not so young, and in the library, or a bookstore.  Jill (Tanna Frederick) was reading Sylvia Plath and Jack (Robert Standley) appeared suddenly out of nowhere surrounded by a pile of books he would probably never read.

The light on Jill elevated her looks, slightly.  No matter, he simply thought she was divine.  And she, well, she couldn’t see what anyone saw in her.

That was just her thing.

“I was, from over there in the stacks, struck, stuck by you… viscerally struck… as if you cared, right?” – Jack

The moment didn’t matter.  The fact that she was in front of him, that they were both there together, sharing a moment, however inarticulate, seemed right.  

But, right now, they were both verbally awkward as though the English language had deserted them.   

“I’m not in the market for the wrong compliment, Jack.” – Jill

Ouch. Well, okay so things are not going well, at least for him, or her, depending how you view the situation.  Funny, but she controls the strings, and he seems to be caught in her snare.   

“So, please, and I mean this, don’t take leaving me alone personally…” – Jill

But struck by his insistence or charm, Jill invites him up to her apartment.  And it is no secret to anyone within shouting distance that Jill is a little offbeat, everything that happens, happens on her terms, her rules, down to the minute details, including wearing a condom and having no penetration.

Later in their relationship, things change.  Jack believes that they should move to California, that she should follow him, because her job is transferable, and he will be the breadwinner as an imagist. What this really means is that Jill doesn’t understand what it means, or doesn’t care what it means.  All she sees is that he carries a few boards around with him from time to time.   Jill, not really thinking about his moment, is not too hot about picking up and leaving, especially since she is thinking about going to medical school.

“Jill, stop reacting and listen…” – Jack

“Don’t give me your “I’m dealing with a barely rational creature” voice. It’s demeaning.” – Jill

This is probably not a conversation you want to have with a woman.

“I really must not. Build a life around somebody else…”   - Jill

That’s when Jack pops the question, you know the question, and really Jill is not in the mood for that. She wants something different in from their relationship.

“What, then?” – Jack

“Companions.” – Jill

“Yes.” – Jack

“Meaning…” – Jill

“Yes?” – Jack

“Equal voice.” – Jill

Jack throws the equal voice argument to the side as he says that she makes most of the decisions.  And it’s kind of interesting because she does, except for the moving part.  But strange as it seems Jill suggests that they flip a coin to make a solid decision, “Heads it’s California, tails it’s here”. And then suggests they not look at the results of the coin toss.  First they go out to dinner, come back, have penetration, grill up some “horrible meat” in the morning, draw up a prenuptial agreement and then look at the coin.

(All that time without looking! For the love of God Jack, go look at the coin, at least make an attempt, to satisfy all male instincts!)

Later Jack has second thoughts about getting married, good thoughts while alone with a beer and talking to himself.  

“So, why would you get married in the first place…why?...why would you do that?” – Jack

And a determined Jack confronts Jill.

“I can’t marry you, I’m a bad person.” – Jack

“I see.” – Jill

And as Jill listens to all of his faults, she somehow manages, tenderly mind you, to throw the rope and wrangle him back to the stable.

“I love you… or something.” - Jill

Things never last; the desiderata one seeks in a partner never comes to pass.  One might blame her inability to articulate her wants, and his inability to express his feelings.  

Jack and Jill by Jane Martin, directed by Jack Heller, produced by Tanna Frederick, Lauren Beck, and Rosemary is playing at the Santa Monica Playhouse through March 27th, 2016.   

Jack and Jill is a fantastic romantic comedy with standout performances by Tanna Frederick and Robert Standley.  The intimate moments, when the actors break the fourth wall to find a reassuring ear in the audience, are absolutely amazing.   It is a testament to intimate theatre in an intimate space.

There is something different about Jack Heller’s (the director) vision.  Gone are the dressers (characters written as part of the play) that play a fundamentally important part of the process that solidly defines the through line.  It elucidates the devotion the characters have to each other while neglecting the unimportant things around their life. Naytheless, Heller guides the actors, and the pugnacious characters, in his version, to give a sophisticated nuance to the roles.   And those moments are clearly defined.  

All right, so what doesn’t work?  Well, the opening needs work.  We are rushed into the moment without having the characters clearly identified – where they are, who they are, and what they want. We go straight into dialogue without letting the moments happen.

(And, as an aside, this is a play specifically written for the characters to listen carefully and then react. There are just a few moments, at various points in the play that need special attention to listening.)

For Jack in the opening moments, it is the look, the stalk, the introduction, and the insistence that should take time. For Jill in those same moments, it is the look, the avoidance, and the complete disregard of another human being in the room.  

Tanna Frederick

Tanna Frederick, as Jill, gives a fantastic performance and the moments to the fourth wall are outstanding giving us the “thing” that defines the character in one dramatic fell swoop. That said, one would appreciate Jill with more strength, someone who definitely knows what she wants, but is inarticulate when expressing those thoughts.  There are moments in Frederick’s performance where I want to stand and applaud.

Robert Standley

Robert Standley, as Jack, does some outstanding work on stage.  Jack says he’s an imagist and one would like to see how that translates to his character on stage in manner and dialogue. He speaks in images, not words, inarticulate visions that are indescribable.  There is a lot to be said about a character that stands next to a beautiful Greek girl, shoulders touching, and just enjoying the moment, without finding the words, for nine straight hours. That aside, Standley gives a remarkable performance and the finest work I have seen from him to date.  

The play’s author Jane Martin may be a pseudonym, collaboration from the likes of Marcia Dixey and Jon Jory. It certainly feels like a specific kind of truth written for two sides of the gender coin. They speak a gendered language that rings true to the core.  Also, the characters don’t hear each other.  One talks over the other. They speak in short sentences, in dramatic aposiopesis, except when talking to the fourth wall.  And the greater conflict in this piece is a character not getting a grasp on what the other character is feeling.   

And all of this makes for fantastic theatre.

Fritz Davis is responsible for the Video Projection (the running scene was fantastic).  Also, the cityscapes on the upstage walls added a lot to the look of the production although I was lost at one point determining what city they were in.  Davis was also responsible for the Sound Design, which were comprised of pop standards that worked effectively.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Donny Jackson – Lighting Designer
James Cooper – Set Design
Victor Sonnora – Scenic Design
George J. Vennes III – Production Stage Manager
Fangyuan Liu – Costume Design/Production Assistant
Anaid Gutierrez – Make-up

Tanna Frederick, Lauren Beck and Rosemary Marks produced the show in the fine intimate setting of the Santa Monica Playhouse.

Run! Run! Run!  And take a long lost lover.

One more thing, this exciting show will only get better as time progresses.

Santa Monica Playhouse Main Stage
A Guest Production
1211 4th Street
Santa Monica, CA  90401

Reservations:  323-960-1055

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