Thursday, July 16, 2015

There was a Writer and His Wife…

Summer Rep Dazzles in Ninth Season

By Lily Olason

There are a lot of things Bellingham is good for: hiking, biking, shopping for casual footwear. Summer Rep is another. Still going very strong after nearly a decade, the annual three-part repertory play series at the Mount Baker Theater continues to enchant audiences young and old with the gems of the modern American theatrical canon. Tonight, it was Neil Simon’s Jake’s Women. And boy did this one jive.

53-year-old Jake is a writer. It’s the early nineties. His second marriage is on the rocks and his wife may or may not be having an affair with an attractive corporate co-worker. His active, once-profitable imagination is plaguing him with incessant visitations from everyone from his sister to his analyst and his 21-year-old deceased first wife. He can’t seem to shake them and they, admittedly, would rather not be there, either. Between arguments with the living, breathing wife of his reality and that of his gymnastic imagination, Jake finds himself in a precarious, deteriorating condition. As one might imagine, calamity ensues.

Mark Waldstein plays a masterful Jake. Not only is he immediately well cast, but he’s quick on his feet and an expertly emotive performer. He brings a distinct and lively voice to an expressive character, and shines a fickle humanity through the classic neurotic writer taken hostage by his own emotions. His scenes with every supporting character are equally engaging and direct, delicate and funny. Arguments with Imogen Love as his wife, Maggie, are a riot and their rapport together is admirable.

Mark Waldstein as Jake. Photo credit: Damian Vines
Love shines as world-weary second wife, Maggie. Exhausted by her meteoric rise up the corporate ladder, she just can’t seem to justify her absentee marriage to Jake. While she might not be “physically” present for much of the show, she certainly makes herself available to his prodigious imagination and, luckily, we get to see it. Offering her opinions on everything from his mental state to his social calendar, Love works wonders as the integral, hilarious rock to Jake’s accelerating orbit. Her character’s self-declared “humorless” disposition is unencumbered by Love’s natural, side-splitting state. Her scene with Nicola Amos as Sheila is a particular winner.

Waldstein and Love in a battle of wills. Photo credit: Damian Vines
Bonnie Brennan Hollingsworth, like Love, is no stranger to the Rep series. Which is a good thing. This time, she plays a fantastic Karen, sister to Jake it seems, in imagination only. Not too thrilled with her constant appearance in his hand-wringing episodes of indecision, Hollingsworth delivers a compelling, funny performance. It’s no easy feat to authentically bring Simon’s masterful dialogue to life, but she does it with grace. The regular rotation of outfits, too, compliment her seasoned comedic timing/sisterly attitude she brings to the role.

Terry Sacks gives a truly inspired performance of Jake’s ill-sympathetic analyst, Edith. Appearing in bursts of no-nonsense, pull-yourself-together interludes within his fairly masochistic imagination, Sacks is a perfect choice for this role. Her quips and one-liners are fantastically funny, and her rapport with Jake is much like the deal-with-it aunt at your family reunion. Wonderful.

Sacks as Edith. Photo credit: Damian Vines
 Amanda Burke and Greta Miller team up as the 12 year-old and 21-year-old versions of Jake’s daughter, Molly. Burke does excellent work as the younger, channeling the perceptiveness and natural humor of the character with gusto and ease. I would bet that we’ll be seeing much more of her in the future. Miller plays college student Molly with a rare authenticity-- this girl’s got chops. In an integral final scene with Jake and Julie, her performance was brilliantly executed.
From L-R: Burke, Waldstein, and Miller. Photo credit: Damian Vines
Shelby Windom plays a lovely Julie, alive only in the vast and expansive halls of Jake’s mind. Coaching him through various episodes of life’s trials, Julie establishes herself as a dynamic character even within the confines of memory. Her work with Miller is sweet and her scenes with Jake touching. Nicole Amos delights in her brief but hilarious appearance as Sheila, Jake's interim girlfriend. Her scene is quite nearly a show-stealer, and she and Love make quite the team.

Waldstein and Windom. Photo credit: Damian Vines
Time and space is constrictive, but I must put a word in about set and lights. Magnificent. Also, David Gassner's direction is positively superb.

My dedication to sticking to the length guidelines of this review is out the window by this point, but Jake’s Women certainly earned it. I’ll let you thread the wonderful writing and symbolism yourselves, but just know that there is indeed a message and a point to this whole show and that it’s a good one.

Jake’s Women runs in repertory with two other plays, Other Desert Cities and The Last Romance, from July 14-August 9 at the Mount Baker Theater’s Walton Theater in Bellingham. Tickets start at $25. See the MBT’s website for more info and to reserve tickets (or to just check it out; they redesigned it and it looks fab).

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