warm the heart
Where: Manoa Valley Theatre
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays through June 6
By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin
TAKE some tissue to Manoa Valley Theatre's production of "Jake's Women." If you have a heart, take a box and be ready to share with those around you. Playwright Neil Simon deploys comic bits and comic relief with his usual precision, but this isn't your usual Neil Simon comedy.
Jake (David F. Kleist) is a modern writer clinging to the edge of sanity. Jake enjoys total control of the universe that he creates with his writing. Back in the real world he finds it more comforting to conduct imaginary conversations with various women than to confront the reality of his crumbling marriage.
One of those women is his sister, Karen (Diana Carter Anderson), who is generally ditsy but sympathetic. His psychiatrist (Sylvia Hormann-Alper) isn't as sympathetic but the heated arguments he imagines having with her also seem to help. Jake's deceased first wife, Julie (Stefanie Anderson), is perfect in every way; he most likes to imagine her as she was at 21 on the morning after they first made love and she told him he was her very first lover.
Add Jake's daughter, Molly, as she was at 12 (Erica Joseph) and now is at 21 (Mariah Joseph), and there's barely any room at all for his estranged wife, Maggie (Linda Johnson).
At first these figments of Jake's imagination respond pretty much as he wants them too. And why not, since it's his imagination at work? Playwright Simon has several of the women complain cutely about the dialogue Jake gives them in their imaginary conversations with him. And, if that last sentence seems a bit confusing, well, there are times when Simon too seems to have had problems maintaining the continuity of the premise of this play.
Jake's grip on sanity becomes more precarious when the women start turning up on their own volition. Jake is trying work out a tentative commitment, maybe, sort of, with new girlfriend Sheila (Michelle Yuhasz), when he apparently imagines he actually sees Maggie physically present in the apartment. Jake starts yelling at Maggie while Sheila stands dumbfounded and then bolts from the apartment. There is a crucial difference between imagining a conversation with someone and being unable to separate fantasy from physical reality. Insanity isn't funny.
The most poignant scene of all comes when Julie appears uninvited and insists that Jake keep his promise to her and imagine that Molly has come home from college so that they can meet in his imagination and catch up as mother and adult daughter on all the things that have happened since her death -- Julie died in a car crash at 35 when Molly was still a pre-teen).
Anderson does a tremendous job as Julie first insists on "aging" from 21 to 35, and then gingerly bonds with the grown daughter she never got to know.
Mariah Joseph makes her MVT debut a memorable one as Molly. The scene is a demanding one for both Anderson and Joseph, and their skill in negotiating the emotional rollercoaster helped bring many in the audience to tears on opening night.
SIMON takes longer than necessary to reach a point that remains opaque at best, but director Clarke Evans gets great work from a talented cast along the way. An early scene finds Jake mentally weighing the pros and cons of responding to Maggie's confession of an affair with a co-worker by saying truthfully that he too has cheated; Kleist's expressive features define Jake's emotional battle without a word said.
Diana Carter Anderson and Sylvia Hormann-Alper are excellent in two of the major comic roles. Johnson does a good job in a relatively unsympathetic role. Erica Joseph is charming as young Molly.
Yuhasz is interesting as the unfortunate Sheila; there's an awkward grating element that suggests the unpleasant intrusion of reality into Jake's delusional mental environment.
Ronald Perry (set design/technical design) and Cathie Anderson (lighting) create a interesting visual environment that allows the women a variety of entry and exit points. Lighting effects generally suffice to suggest other locations.
Peggy Krock (costumes) uses colors and hues to hint at the status of various characters. That's a nice touch.
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