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A CurtainUp Berkshires Review
Jack and Jill

I think marriage is like the cockpit of a commercial airliner. . .you know. . .all those switches. . .and they all. . .all 200. . .have to be in. . .the right position, only in aviation they know what those are, and in marriage you never do, so the odds . . .the odds are astronomical you won't. . .stay in the air. So I don't think we're bad people, Jack, I think we are disgruntled victims. . .of the odds. -- Jill
The love story that playwright Jane Martin has concocted is based on the improbable premise of a man named Jack falling into instant love with a woman whose name happens to be Jill. Given that both are the walking wounded of the relationship wars, the likelihood that their meeting in a New York City library will lead to a happily ever after marriage is slimmer than the volume of Sylvia Plath's poems she's reading when he initiates their first conversation.

Shakespeare & Company's promotional material for Jack and Jill, though bright and cute, might well puzzle and put off the serious theater goer. How has what sounds like a sitcom with characters whose very names evoke cartoon images seeded numerous productions since its1996 premiere at the prestigious Humana Festival in Louisville?

> Not to worry. This production reunites director Normi Noël and Corinna May and Allyn Burrows. May's and Burrows' film star good looks and finely honed emotional repertoire make for a blissfully happy stage union. They get beneath the pop psychological exterior of Jack and Jill with elegant delicacy and deft humor, plumbing Ms. Martin's Pinteresque dialogue for every spark of wit (even more so than they did in Harold Pinter's (Betrayal). They are so good that the overly familiar and predictable elements of Martin's script become minor flaws in this bittersweet journey along the rocky relationship highway. These wonderful performances keep us fully engaged in Jack and Jill's struggle to come closer to finding what they really need from themselves and each other instead of what they think they need.

Things begin with Jack initiating the romance with a delightfully amusing mating call. The response from Jill raises the warning flag of her self-assertive, commitment wary feminism. It is an immediate collision of sexual attraction and sexual politics but it doesn't prevent come-on from leading to coming together -- living together, marrying, divorcing, post-divorce encounter, and final no. . .maybe . Jack brings his share of painful scars to the relationship, but he is, for the most part, more eager and willing to change, while Jill repeatedly puts the kabash on their living together in close and loving intimacy. It tends to make one believe the persistent rumors that Ms. Martin, who is famously reclusive, is really Mr. Martin!

Whatever the playwright's own sexual identity, she (he?) has written three particularly memorable scenes which May and Burrows play to the hilt: 1. Jacks display of last minute groom jitters just as Jill has put aside her pre-nuptial demands long enough to don a traditional white bridal dress. 2. A terrific dish breaking scene. Years after Jill, has sweet-talked Jack out of those jitters she's in a stressful medical residency and becomes intent on breaking all their dishes. Jack tries to ease her stress even though she insists it's not his problem. The dishes keep breaking, and so does the marriage. 3. Jack, in retreat from his painful love for Jill, gives a priceless "Nice Guys Don't Win the Mating Game" speech ("What they {women} prefer are abusive qualities moderated by charm. . .").

Watch this romantic see-saw of the on-again-off-again relationship is at times as painful as it is funny. Corinna May isn't afraid to make you at times lose sympathy and patience with her. In fact, by the time they've tumbled all the way down the marital hill and Jill begs Jack to understand that she has come to realize that she really needs him, you may find yourself wishing that, like Rhett Butler, he'd say "Frankly my dear I don't give a damn". But only for a minute. Maybe, just maybe, Jack's "maybe" is better.

My major quibble with Ms. Noël's otherwise sensitive and finely tuned directing is with the excess busyness of the staging. The constant shifting of the large two-sided panels (one side plain, one side with painted images) is not only unnecessary but often annoyingly distracting. The device of having two silent dressers (Rory Hammond and Hally Gutman) assist the actors with their many costume changes (borrowed from Asian theater) is part of the stage directions. The success of this device relies on them to be as invisible as possible -- an impossibility since the director has them also assist in the endless and cumbersome shifting of those panels. Since this play runs through fall, perhaps the director will realize that her magnificent duo of actors don't need more than a minimal number of props.

A caveat: I've often seen youngsters at Shakespeare's various offerings and mostly they seem to enjoy themselves. However, this play does not mince words when discussing the sexual issues in a modern American marriage. I'd therefore advise leaving the kids home for this one.

By Jane Martin
Directed by Normy Noël
Starring Allyn Burrows and Corinna May
Dressers: Rory Hammond and Hally Gutman
Set Design: Rachel Nemec
Lighting Design: Stephen Ball
Costume Design: Betsey Pangburn
Sound Design: Mark Huang
Choreographer: Susan Dibble Running time: 90 minutes, including a 12 minute intermission Presented by Shakespeare & Company
Stables Theatre, Plunkett St., Lenox, MA
For tickets and other information: 413/637-3353 or boxoffice
7/14/200-10/15/2000; opening 7/22/2000

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on July 25 performance

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