Jack Goes Boating
nytheatre.com review by Matt Freeman
March 17, 2007
The story of Jack Goes Boating isn't the script: it's the cast. Featuring Oscar winner Phillip Seymour Hoffman and John Ortiz (who together are the co-founders of the powerhouse LAByrinth Theater Company), the production had most of New York salivating before anyone had seen a page of dialogue. Add to the mix a long-time intern at LAByrinth (Beth Cole) moving up in the ranks and the ubiquitous Daphne Rubin-Vega, and you've got four actors with great chops and history.
This play, which is written by Bob Glaudini, features Jack (Hoffman), a sweet-natured lug with lousy hair and a taste for Rastafarian music. When he's introduced to Connie (newcomer Cole) by his friends Clyde and Lucy, he finds himself climbing up out of his haze in order to rise to this budding romance. He learns to cook (because no man has ever cooked for Connie before) and learns to swim so that he can take her boating.
The actors live up to advance billing: they perform well above the material. Ortiz and Hoffman seem to be having a ball playing best friends, and their scenes together have a rare ease and sensitivity. Rubin-Vega does fine work in support of these two, and Cole's performance, while maybe a bit more mannered than the other three, certainly shows that she's equal to the task of sharing the stage with her more experienced co-stars.
Does it really matter, then, if they're channeling Nora Ephron for the Big Lebowski set? They could, as they say, read us the phone book and we'd shell out at least $20 for it.
For a slightly higher ticket price, though, we do ask for a play.
The actual play is a bit of a mess. Exposition is often clumsily handled, and some short scenes peter out or just hang on the stage purposelessly. There are certainly moments that have veracity and sweetness, but they're often muddied by excess. Swimming lessons, for example, appear as monologues delivered with verve by Ortiz. There are, though, too many of them, and they overplay their metaphor. We see that our Connie, as an ingénue, is a bit unhinged: therefore a very short scene where she wails on a subway platform seems both clichéd and unnecessary.
More frustratingly, Jack Goes Boating allows the characters' overreactions to manifest themselves in excessive drug use. The climax of the play is fueled primarily by characters getting extremely high. There's something unsatisfying about this...it seems too easy. It's more dramatic to see characters face challenges because of their own behavior, not because they're chemically altered. All in all, these characters seem like those of a sitcom: a literate and gritty one, but a sitcom nonetheless.
I suspect, though, that most of the audience for this play will find much to enjoy and much to forgive. If the play seems unfinished, the performances are more than fine. Fans of this company and of this cast will likely be charmed as some of the best actors working in New York enjoy themselves in lighter fare.