Thursday, November 26, 2015

Review: 'Jacob and Jack'

Oy vey ist mir! laments Wendy Rosenfield: Where to begin with the troubles that plague Montgomery Theater's "Jacob and Jack"?

Review: 'Jacob and Jack'


By Wendy Rosenfield
For the Inquirer

Oy vey ist mir! Where to begin with the troubles that plague Montgomery Theater’s Jacob and Jack?

Maybe it’s best to start with what works. Maura Roche’s set design. Three dressing rooms, side by side with no walls, but many doors: That works. It works particularly well when playwright James Sherman suddenly decides this time-traveling comic/dramatic tribute to Yiddish theater is also a farce.

There’s also a scene, about two-thirds of the way through, in which Lisa (Theresa Dolan), wife of Jack (David S. Jack), meets young actress Robin (Sarah Raimondi) in Jack’s dressing room. The trio has arrived to perform a staged reading of a play once performed by Jack’s grandparents on that very stage. (Those grandparents, Jacob and Leah Shemerinsky, will be played later by Jack and Dolan, in dual roles.) Jack, like grandfather Jacob before him, has a wandering eye, and the women are wary, until a speed round of Jewish geography (the Jewish six degrees of separation) gets them blabbing about Brandeis and squeezes Jack completely out of the picture.

This scene stands out primarily because its quick pace, nimble performance, light tension, and cleverness highlight everything missing from the rest of the production. Director Tom Quinn — along with Sherman — gets lost among the play’s myriad subplots and half-examined ideas. The result is glacially slow pacing and jokes that not only miss their marks, but also remain fidgeting in the uncomfortable silence when the actors pause for laughter that never arrives.

In addition, much of the script stretches credibility even by farcical standards. One example: Jack, quasi-famous for his appearance in TV ads as “the magic carpet guy” asks stage manager Don (Adam Lebowitz-Lockard) if there’s “a craft services around here” (Hollywoodese for a catering company buffet). At a staged reading? Performed for what he believes is an audience populated solely by members of his mother’s ladies club?

Having a skilled performer in the title roles might alleviate some of the trouble, particularly since he needs to play characters with nearly a century between them, as the play skips back and forth from grandfather’s day to grandson’s. But what Shemerinsky’s stage manager tells a nervous ingenue — “If he has his way, not one of these people will pay any attention to you” — applies equally to Jack. There’s little give and take between him and the other actors, and not nearly enough change in mannerism to make a convincing generational split.

There's an old Yiddish saying, “Better a little good than a lot of bad.” Unfortunately, in Jacob and Jack, you get both.

Playing at: Montgomery Theater, 124 N. Main St., Souderton. Through Saturday, Dec. 10. Tickets: $22-$35. Information: 215-723-9984 or

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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