Jack Goes Boating, A CurtainUp review, CurtainUp

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A CurtainUp Review
Jack Goes Boating

It's gonna happen, just not right now. You're gonna cook, row in a boat, everything. It's all gonna happen. Right,. Connie, everything? She loves you. We all love you and we will not give in to the dark forces— Clyde reassuring Jack, who's in a funk after one of his plans for a happy ending for his romance with Connie goes awry.
Jack Goes Boating Cast
Beth Cole, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Ortiz, Daphne Rubin-Vega in Jack Goes Boating. (Photo: Monique Carboni)
I wouldn't be misleading you if I told you that Jack Goes Boating is a present day screwball romantic comedy. That's not to say that the LAByrinth Theater Company has gone soft and abandoned the sort of working class people who dominate their best plays. Robert Glaudini's Jack, a limousine driver whose relationships with women you can count on one hand and have five fingers left over, bears little resemblance to Clark Gable or Cary Grant. His kissing kin are Marty, Frankie and Rocky (Paddy Chayevsky's butcher, Terrence McNally's short order cook, Sylvester Stallone's brawny but not brainy prize fighter).

The conversations between Jack and the three other characters in this comic chronicle of two relationships —one a bit frayed after five years, and another trying to burst into bloom — is full of "ahems" and ellipses and more gritty than slickly sophisticated. But with Philip Seymour Hoffman of the Oscar-winning Capote once again literally disappearing in a role — but live rather than filmed— it's easy to see why there's been enough of a rush to buy tickets for the run to extend even before the official opening. His shlumpy limo driver, whose highest career aspiration is a job with the MTA, out-nebbishes Marty and all the other unlikely romantic leads you've ever seen.

But terrific as Hoffman is, this is not a case of a star being the first and foremost reason to see a show (a case in point: Liev Schreiber in the revival of Radio Talk). Jack Goes Boating exemplifies that all too rare amalgam of a contemporary comedy with genuine heart, an expert ensemble with wonderful chemistry and superb production values.

The play has a good deal in common with Glaudini's 2003 play, Dutch Heart of Man (also for LAByrinth and in their then smaller home at the Public, the Shiva Theater). Jack and Clyde (John Ortiz), like Dutch and Marty of the earlier play, are buddies, one not too tightly wrapped and socially adjusted while his more assured, glib friend's fragility is less obvious. Happily, Glaudini has further sharpened his gift for down-to-earth, fragmentary but information-packed dialogue and has now crafted a more all-around satisfying play, with four characters you can care about despite (or because) of their weaknesses.

The advance publicity describes the play as "laced with cooking classes, swimming lessons and a smorgasbord of illegal drugs" and the playwright has indeed used all of this to keep the relationships of Jack and Connie (Beth Cole) and Clyde and Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega) moving along paralell tracks. It starts with Clyde and Lucy fixing Jack up with her co-worker at a funeral home which also sells grief seminars. They feel that Connie's own personal traumas are a good fit for the quirks that seem to be dooming Jack to permanent bachelorhood (he's afraid of change and gets easily upset even about little things like watching a guy on the subway make a mess eating potato chips, and still lives in a cramped basement space in the home of the uncle whose limo service employs both men).

The swimming and cooking classes follow after Jack and Connie in their own shy way hit it off. When Connie mentions that she'd like to haveJack take her boating and he says that he'd like to do so, there's a sense that the romance begun in mid-winter might still be on when it's warm enough to go rowing. Having gotten them together and seeing Jack eager enough to be open to some changes in his life —like taking Connie rowing even though he doesn't know how to swim— Clyde gives him lessons at a local public pool. As Jack is open to the warm weather boating date, he also declares that he'd like to celebrate Connie's recovery after a subway assault by a stranger by cooking her dinner. Never mind that he no more knows how to cook than swim! Clyde and Lucy again come to the rescue. The teacher this time is an unseen gourment cook who's crucial to the plot complications. The symbolism behind all these lessons is quite transparent, especially the swimming lessons which progress from the shallow to the deep end of the pool.

As for the the illegal drugs referred to in the promotional materials, they too are delivered as promised, which calls for a pause to register a reservation: I think the climax could have been just as satisfactorily achieved if it had been made clear that the use of cocaine was a one time thing, like the special Hooka (a Mideastern tobacco pipe not really used for smoking anything illegal).

Because the pleasures of seeing Jack and Connie's romance take tiny steps over the hurdles that have so far kept both single is in watching their forward moves and setbacks, this is as much of the plot as I'm going to reveal. Suffice it to say that it's a thrill to see Hoffman and Ortiz and to see the latter, for whom this is a new kind of role, demonstrate his considerable comic skills.

The entire ensemble plays their solos, duets and full ensemble scenes with the collaborative tempo of a topnotch string quartet. As this is a felicitous pairing for Ortiz and Hoffman so it is for Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega. Their Lucy and Clyde fit Glaudini apparent penchant for names that evoke famous characters. They're not your typical happily ever after domesticated married couple, more like Lucy and Ricardo than Bonnie and Clyde. Beth Cole who plays Connie is a new LAByrinth company member and new to me. She fits right in with these stellar actors.

A play with many short scenes often has too many awkward blackouts and scenery shift, but as staged by Peter DuBois, Jack moves from awkward loner to still awkward but endearing lover as smoothly as — well, as smoothly as a row boat gliding through a calm lake. The well-paced story flow is helped no small measure by David Korins sliding sets (I counted nine different locations). Japhy Weideman's lighting design and David Van Tieghem's sound design enhance the memorably amusing swimming pool scenes. Mimi O'Donnell's costumes add to the production's just right overall look. While I enjoyed the LABrinth productions when there was no money for this much more elaborate staging, and in much smaller venues than the Public's Martinson, it's nice to see that Mr. DuBois has made such good use of the obviously larger than usual budget. On the night I saw Jack Goes Boating, the snow scene was almost site specific, as Lafayette Street was being blanketed with the white stuff. Rain, snow or sun, warm or cold, this is a highly recommended boat trip.

By Bob Glaudini
Directed by Peter DuBois Tuesday at 7pm, Wednesday to Saturday at 8pm, Saturday and Sunday at 2pm and Sunday at 7pm.
Cast: Beth Cole (Connie), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Jack), John Ortiz (Clyde), Daphne Rubin-Vega (Lucy)
Sets: David Korins
Costumes: Mimi O'Donnell
Lights: Japhy Weideman
Composition & Sound: David Van Tieghem
Running Time: 2 hours plus intermission
LAByrinth Theater Company at Public Theater's Martinson Hall, 425 Lafayette Street, 212-967-7555
From 2/27/07 to 4/08/07—extended even before opening to 4/19/07; opening 3/18/07.
Tickets: $65; with a limited amount of $20 cash only rush tickets available at each performance one hour before curtain.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at March 16th press performance
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