She's too naughty, he's too nice

Review: "Jack and Jill" is clever, but the audience's interest takes a tumble.

May 17, 1999|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

The title characters in Jane Martin's play, "Jack and Jill," have more in common with the nursery rhyme than just their names. In this wry look at romance in the 1990s, the protagonists seem destined for a fall.

Consider the words Jane uses to convince Jack to go through with their wedding after he gets cold feet. "I love you -- or something," she says with all the conviction of someone who is herself wracked with doubt.

Under Alex Willis' direction, Martin's two-person play is receiving a slick, well-acted production at Fell's Point Corner Theatre. But because the script drags, and because one of the characters is so unappealing, even the best efforts can't keep "Jack and Jill" from tumbling down that proverbial hill -- and taking the audience along with it.

A pseudonymous playwright, Martin has long been a subject of speculation among critics. All that is known is that she hails from Louisville, Ky. Because her plays tend to premiere at the Actors Theatre of Louisville's Humana Festival, it has long been thought that "she" is actually Actors Theatre artistic director Jon Jory.

I can't say if that's the case or not. But judging from "Jack and Jill," I would hazard a guess that Jane is a man -- either that, or a self-loathing, misogynistic woman. How else to explain the portrait of Jill as a woman so selfish, needy, badgering, controlling and, well, unlovable, that it's almost impossible to understand what Jack sees in her?

Not that Lynda McClary doesn't do her utmost to make Jill amusing, if somewhat cool ("I'm basically unapproachable," she tells Jack when they meet). McClary also credibly portrays Jill's initial nervousness, which often takes the form of chattering so fast, Jack can barely get a word in. For the most part, however, Jill is a tough, defensive woman with a large chip on her shoulder.

Patrick Martyn's Jack, on the other hand, is as adorable as a puppy -- and just as eager for affection. His chief fault, according to Jill, is that he's too "nice," a word she spits out as if she were trying to dislodge a piece of gristle from her teeth. In fact he is too nice, too nice for Jill. She can see it, the audience can see it, the only question is, how long will it take Jack to see it? Even before intermission, you're rooting for them not to get back together.

Willis stages the action on designer Carol Oles' minimalist set, which consists primarily of a group of box-like modules situated on round platforms. Four on-stage dressers and stagehands move the modules, hand the actors props and help them in and out of costumes ranging from wedding apparel to swim suits. It's all extremely clever, but despite the fine performances, when the novelty wears off, so does any real concern about the fate of the characters.

Show times at Fell's Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St., are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through June 6. Tickets are $10 and $11. Call 410-276-7837.

Stunning abstract horses

Take some sheet aluminum, wire, red plastic, fishing line, papier mache and fabric, put it all together and what do you get? If you're master puppeteer and sculptor Mary Jane Oelke, you get a half dozen horses' heads.

The stunning, semi-abstract constructions will be worn by the "stable" of actors who portray equines in the Vagabond Players' production of Peter Shaffer's "Equus," which opens a five-weekend run Friday.

Oelke, 42, who is largely self-taught and has her own puppet theater company, Stringling Marionette Company, was invited to design the horse heads by the production's director, Barry Feinstein, with whom she had worked as assistant director on "Inherit the Wind" at the Vagabonds last season.

Her "Equus" designs are part mask, part puppet. "I just decided that a stiff mask would be so lifeless that I was hoping to be able to incorporate some movement into the masks themselves," Oelke says.

Although she has never seen "Equus," Oelke was guided by the playwright's notes in the published script, indicating that the audience should be able to see the faces of the actors playing the horses, who have been blinded by a disturbed adolescent boy in this acclaimed 1973 drama. (A different production, featuring only one horse, closes at Olney Theatre Center on Sunday.)

The actors got a chance to try Oelke's creations before they were completed (the finished versions will have eyeballs formed from clear red plastic and caps made of fabric-covered papier mache). "They seemed to instinctively get the feel right away," she says of the ensemble, most of whom had not previously worked with puppets.

For his part, director Feinstein describes the horses' heads as "incredible looking," adding, "They are more than just horses. They are like the inner demons of both the young boy and the psychiatrist. It's really quite something."

Show times at the Vagabonds, 806 S. Broadway, are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays, through June 20. Tickets are $10. Call 410-563-9135.

Pub Date: 5/17/99

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