The Labyrinth Theater Company is stirring up a little bohemian magic at the Public Theater where a delightful production of Bob Glaudini’s Jack Goes Boating directed by Peter DuBois is making its world premiere. The top notch cast is headed by Philip Seymour Hoffman in his first New York stage appearance since winning the Oscar “gold” for Capote. Not much happens in terms of excitement but what does transpire is lively, heartwarming, and poignant. Here is a slice of New York City life told from the struggling journeyman’s point of view.
The play, an appealing modern day comedy, focuses on four friends and the interweaving fabric of their relationships as a married couple that has been together for five years encourages two of their friends to team up. Peppered with cooking classes, swimming lessons and a potpourri of illegal drugs the intimate story about first date panic, marital stress, and infidelity is ultimately about the strength of the human spirit when squared by the power of friendship.
The shy hero Jack (Hoffman) is a self conscious limousine driver with an ample frame, an average “Joe” that bears a close resemblance to Paddy Chayevsky’s butcher Marty. He carries around a tiny cassette tape player with a recorded reggae song that he plays every now and then for a jolt of positive energy. After meeting Connie (Beth Cole), a frightened young woman, through his married friends Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega) and Clyde (John Oritz), Jack promises to cook Connie dinner and take her boating in the spring, even though he can’t swim and doesn’t know how to cook. Supported by Clyde and Lucy, Jack learns to cook, perfecting the recipe he will dish up on the eventful night by practicing on them. He also thrusts himself into swimming lessons with Clyde that are amongst the evening’s most charming scenes.
Meanwhile we learn that several years earlier Lucy had been unfaithful to Clyde with a pastry chef and Clyde has still not come to terms with her infidelity. He is in denial believing he has accepted it, all the while allowing what Lucy did to secretly eat away at him. So while one couple is in the initial stages of intoxication, the other couple is struggling to keep their marriage afloat. The juxtaposition gives a realistic look at the nature of relationships and the difficulties inherent in intimacy.
Glaudini’s characters are nicely drawn, and the fine acting that has become a staple associated with the Labyrinth elevates the evening beautifully. Under Peter DuBois’ expertly paced direction the actors excel with understated quirkiness and heart, allowing you to really care about these people, despite their imperfections or possibly because of them. At the preview we attended, I felt there was a bit of a measured quality to the performances, but this did not deter from the evening’s charm in any way.
The design elements are superb as well. David Korin’s blue collar living room is dead on perfect and you know these people just by looking at his room. The play has several short scenes interspersed with the longer ones and Korin has devised clever ways to accommodate the swift changes with the use of blue-tinted sheer curtains that echo the water from the swimming scenes giving the metaphor on swimming and life added resonance. Japhy Weideman’s lighting further enhances that message as many scenes are bathed in luminous blue light.
Mr. Hoffman and Mr. Oritz are co-artistic directors of the Labyrinth, now celebrating its 15th year. The two men shared the stage together in their first Labyrinth production which they managed to produce for a grand total of $400. Since then the Labyrinth has established itself as one of downtown’s most prominent theater companies. Most of their productions have been intensely dramatic, like Our Lady of 121st Street, a few seasons back, but Jack Goes Boating is decidedly on a different track. Here is a modest social comedy, a slender tale, indeed, but told with warmth and charm. The evening is a touching tribute to lower class New Yorkers as well as winsome tale on acceptance.
By …gordin & christiano
Originally Published in Dan's Papers
Jack Goes Boating opened on March 18, 2007 at Martinson Hall at the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, for a limited run through April 29th. Tickets are available by calling 212-967-7555, online at HYPERLINK "http://www.labyrinth.org" www.labyrinth.org or by visiting the box office.