By Bob Hicks
While Mrs. Scatter is off in the creeping undergrowth of the northern rainforest hunting gnomes, Mr. Scatter is sitting at home pondering the plausibility of the electric bicycle.
Nay, nay, not just a bicycle. An electric three-wheeler, with neat little wire basket in the rear, a vehicle fit for the odd grocery trek and the regular coffee-shop run. Could it be? Might Mr. Scatter don a plaid neck scarf and houndstooth riding cap and sport about town at a dashing 17 mph, shouting wild-eyed imprecations at crows and chihuahuas to clear out of his path if they value wing and limb? Might this be fitting familial payback for a garden suddenly lurking with warty-nosed painted gnomes?
Ah, one can dream, as Jack does in the play Jack Goes Boating, just opened at Artists Repertory Theatre. And sometimes, if a person dreams a dream that is simultaneously quite large and very small, that dream might come true.
Mr. Scatter is not speaking of Mrs. Scatter’s dream of being featured in an eight-page pictorial splash in Better Gnomes and Gardens. He is speaking of Jack’s simple yearning for his one true love, which, after all, is a common enough dream, if not one all that commonly fulfilled. And that Jack must endure unlikely trips to the hospital, a marital catfight by his two best friends and some excruciating swimming lessons with little relief other than a sturdy patience and the occasional hit off a mighty bong only goes to show that when grace arrives, it’s a good idea to be ready and willing to receive it.
If this sounds standardly rom-comish, it is, but only sort of. A demon lurks inside writer Bob Glaudini’s script, which is smart and funny but demands that its characters take a thorough plunge into the dank waters of the dark side before emerging, cleansed and hopeful, in the light. Jack Goes Boating had a well-received run in 2007 at the Public Theatre in New YorkÂ starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Hoffman directed and starred in a movie version last year. The story’s small and sweet and unlikely, or maybe likely after all, just not a story very often told — about the meek inheriting the earth, or a little corner of it, and quietly nurturing it so that something good can grow amid the wasteland.
Let’s just say that Todd Van Voris’s sunk-in, loamy comic essence is ideal for the character of Jack, the shy and schlumpy limousine driver whose only passions seem to be for good dope and good reggae songs until the possibility of Connie comes along. Let’s also say that Emily Sahler Beleele gets down to the gun-shy nitty-gritty of damaged flower Connie, who is neurotic and eccentric and can barely hold onto her job of selling funeral packages over the phone, but who has hopes. Let’s also say that Artists Rep’s production receives crackerjack supporting performances from John San Nicolas as Clyde, Jack’s more worldly limo-driving buddy, and Tai Sammons as Clyde’s sharp-edged and even more worldly wife, Lucy, who’s a go-getter in the funeral game. Clyde and Lucy have felt the dragon’s fire, and no matter how well they recover they’ll never again be quite the same.
Artists Rep has been on a roll lately with its sharply acted productions of Superior Donuts and The Lieutenant of Inishmore, and if Jack Goes Boating lacks the broad historical impact of Donuts and the savage satire of Lieutenant, its performances under director Allen Nause’s sure and lively hand keep the string of good shows rolling. This is, to be plain, a small play, but small is only a descriptor. It’s no disrespect to Glaudini to say that after a while you are likely to forget the details of the script but remember the performances, because creating memorable characters is a good deal of what a playwright sets out to do. And in remembering the performances you’ll also remember why you cared, and feared, and hoped, for these four people.
Bad stuff happens in Jack; at times it seems to pile on like a biblical plague. The world has sharp teeth, and Glaudini bares them to the audience, but gently, from a protective distance. This is a love story and a fairy tale, and fairy tales are for the prince and princess, however unlikely they may seem. But fairy tales are also imperiled by the monstrous, which must be faced and overcome before the happy ending can be rung. In their own meek and unassuming ways, Jack and Connie must be brave.
Mr. Scatter wonders what will become of Jack and Connie after their moonstruck days, after their blissful glide across the lake. Will they sometimes bicker over small matters? Will they grow tired? Will they settle in comfortably? Will they smile and speak shorthand? Will they have children, and the joys and anxieties and sometimes downright anguish that come with them? Will they remember birthdays? Will they listen? Will they go out to lunch? Will they read to each other in bed and laugh for the forty-ninth time at the same old joke? Will they keep surprising each other? Might Jack get a three-wheeler? Might Connie collect gnomes? Life could be worse.
Photo: Owen Carey
ILLUSTRATIONS, from top:
- Could this be the Mr. Scattermobile of the future? Photo: electric-bikes.com
- … and could this become Chez Scatter’s new Large Smelly Gnome? Photo: Ioannes.baptista, Wikimedia Commons.
- Emily Sahler Beleele and Todd Van Voris in “Jack Goes Boating” at Artists Rep. Photo: Owen Carey.