Jack Goes Boating
By Bob Glaudini
Directed by Joy Carlin
June 12-July 19, 2009
Photo: David Allen
Take two quirky couples, knead in a couple of phantom lovers, plenty of dope and a burned dinner, season with a bit of reggae, then sprinkle with sex and let it simmer. “Jack Goes Boating,” Bob Glaudini’s comedy at Aurora Theatre in Berkeley would seem to be a recipe for success even if it didn’t have a crackerjack production with an on-target cast, crisp direction and a set so clever it often becomes a character in itself. But all those ingredients are present in this sweet and sometimes wise story of an innocent abroad in the wild terrain of relationships. And it’s delicious fun.
Jack (Danny Wolohan in the part that Philip Seymour Hoffman played in New York) is a limo driver and, frankly, not the brightest light bulb in the chandelier. His friend Clyde (a very funny Gabriel Marin) is more worldly, a fast talker and, most important of all, married (like, he knows all about women – except not). When Clyde’s wife Lucy (Amanda Duarte) becomes determined to set Jack up with Connie (Beth Wilmurt), a colleague at the funeral parlor where she works, Jack’s world turns upside down. Connie is the kind of clueless woman who says whatever comes into her mind. A bundle of neuroses, she is the kind of character who could easily be played by Lisa Kudrow. Be glad she is played here by Wilmurt, who would walk away with the show if the rest of the ensemble wasn’t so good.
At their first meeting, Connie mentions to Jack that they might go boating someday. It happens to be the dead of winter so that gives him about six months to learn how to swim. Then, when she gets punched out on the subway and lands in the hospital, he tentatively asks her to dinner. She is overwhelmed because no man ever has cooked for her. Jack actually meant dinner in a restaurant but he bravely takes the bait and gives himself a month to learn to cook – not just cook but prepare a gourmet feast for the lady.
The rest of the show is involved with Jack’s lessons, with the unmerciful Clyde as his swimming teacher, shouting instructions that have a hilarious sexual subtext. These take place in a fantastic pool emerging from the imaginations of set designer Melpomene Katakalos and lighting director Jim Cave. (The pool, located on the upper level of a two-story set, doubles as the funeral parlor office, a subway station and Central Park. Clyde and Lucy’s apartment is down below).
The cooking lessons are given by a former lover of Lucy’s, now an assistant pastry cook at the Waldorf Astoria. Federic, the cook, is never seen but he is very much present. As is the charismatic Doctor Bob, the grief counselor whose seminars Lucy and Connie peddle on the phone. Fidelity is not Lucy’s strong point and, while Jack learns how to swim and cook, his married friends provide him with an object lesson in relationships. It all works out after much jealousy, a little mayhem (and a lot of hash and coke and pot) as things will do in romantic comedies. Jack goes boating after all in a surprise ending that will send you out of the theater with a smile on your face.
It’s a simple story about simple (sometimes simply dim) people who care for each other very deeply. That’s on the surface. Dig a little deeper and you will unearth a picaresque tale of Everyman, hacking through the jungle of the city in a search for love and the true meaning of life. Director Joy Carlin has brought out the best in these four actors. The comic timing is precise and the brief, episodic scenes rush by with the speed of a New York subway train. If a lot of dope and a few swear words don’t bother you, you are strongly advised to get on board. It’s a real trip.