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 www.MontgomeryTheater.org.