Review by Anina-Marie and Kieran J. Evans
Have you ever wondered how a conversation will go with a friend, a colleague, a relative, a stranger, without even needing to bother them for the interim?
Jake’s Women, a comedy by Neil Simon, investigates this concept. The show follows the behaviour and slightly unhinged unravelling of Jake, a writer by trade, who mentally summons the women in his life for support, advice, or any manner of positive reinforcement. This is tempered by their personalities (both real and imagined) that shine through and poke holes in Jake’s intended plot lines and topical exposition.
The show explores the conceptual madness of expecting that any vulnerability or intimacy within the confines of your own psyche counts towards that of your partner and loved ones’ in any marked way – outside of a straitjacket.
The unchanging set designed and constructed by Brett Simpson features a sitting room that Jake never really seems to leave, hunched over his word processor and tapping out plot lines and holes for himself to fall through. Jake summons friends and loved ones (both past and present) through a myriad of curtains around the space, to talk him out of despair and confusion about reality, in his own little escapism.
Directed by the accomplished Helen Ekundayo, this production is a fabulous exploration of Jake’s inner world. Ekundayo’s direction established clear motivations for the characters supported by clever blocking choices. The action moves seamlessly on the stage, switching between real and imagined without causing any confusion for the audience. The sound and lighting by Brett Simpson and Owen James is simple yet seamless. The use of a clear lighting scape to distinguish between the real and the imagined helped to prevent any potential audience confusion.
Jake, portrayed by John Evans, is an unreliable narrator, incapable of speaking in concise ways without stumbling, griping, or devolving into an unhinged ranting ramble about the indecency of life not lining up with his own internal mantra. Evans is resplendent in this role, articulate even as Jake stumbles through reality’s drama and making a mess of his life. Spluttering onstage is usually accompanied by an uneasy crowd, wondering why they paid to see unprofessional actors; not so with Evans.
Maggie, as played by Alison Clark, is Jake’s wife of recent years. Coping with a passionate marriage that slowly gives way to remorse and neglect on both sides. Clark is able to switch between Imagined Maggie and Real Maggie seamlessly, enabling the characterisation to bring a profound sense to a small town girl with a big city problem.
Karen, Jake’s sister, aptly portrayed by Karen Neale, lends the understandable expected positive support of a family member that is, in actuality, mocking her sibling instead. Neale is believable, succinct, boisterous, and fabulous in this role.
Julie, depicted by Hannah Martin, as the late wife of Jake, housed entirely within his unravelling mind, continues in her habit of portraying a wife of John Evans’ characters. Martin is the absolute standout actor of this production! Her performance was a joy to experience as she stepped through the hoops of Jake’s tortured psyche. Character growth from beyond the grave is tough (even without necromancy), but Martin manages it in spades. Bravo!
Edith, as played by Desley Nichols, is the grim, yet “grin and bear it” psychologist who has (in past and present sessions) attempted to assuage Jake’s internal guilt and social repression. A hardliner, with glimmering occasions for understated humour, Nichols is wonderful in this role.
Molly the younger, represented by Maisie Thompson, is bright, bubbly, and loving to her father, Jake, and stepmother, Maggie. Thompson is the youngest of this cast, but doesn’t let that slow her down or hold her back. A fabulous performance. We look forward to seeing what she accomplishes next.
Molly the older, played by Natasha Vasserman, has a less than stellar handle on the grief of a lost parent, tempered not by the passage of time. No dry eyes from us as we witnessed this portrayal and sinuous twisting of words once positive to heartfelt despair. Vasserman is a talented actor, even though she performed a role that was rarely on the stage.
Sheila, by Victoria McCrystal, is a gripping turning point within this piece. She shows a marked accomplishment at maintaining a character within the confines of a man’s apartment as he is gripped by insanity and descending into abject violence towards an unseen harasser. McCrystal is spectacular in this role.
Overall, St Luke’s Theatre Society’s rendition of Jake’s Women was a very enjoyable night out at the theatre that challenged the audience to consider their own imagined inner worlds and the conversations they hold within their own minds. Bravo!
St Luke’s Theatre Society’s Jake’s Women, will play at Christ Church Hall, 10 Cork St, Yerona until November 26. Tickets are available here.