Strong cast drives ‘Jake’s Women’ at CHT

Record Observer - - Arts & Entertainment - By PETER HECK pheck@thekent­coun­

CHURCH HILL — Neil Si­mon’s “Jake’s Women,” now play­ing at Church Hill Theatre, looks at a writer who keeps try­ing to re­write his own life in his imag­i­na­tion.

“Jake’s Women” opened on Broad­way in 1992, with Alan Alda in the ti­tle role. Alda was nom­i­nated for a Tony Award as best ac­tor. While not as well known as some of the au­thor’s ear­lier plays, it has the com­bi­na­tion of re­al­life char­ac­ters and sharp di­a­logue that au­di­ences know to ex­pect from Si­mon.

Still, the tone of the play may sur­prise those who ex­pect Si­mon to de­liver a light com­edy in the vein of “The Odd Cou­ple” or “Bare­foot in the Park.” Ac­cord­ing to direc­tor She­lagh Grasso’s notes in the play­bill, it was writ­ten af­ter Si­mon’s third mar­riage broke up. Grasso spec­u­lates that the play “might be a peek into the mind of Neil Si­mon,” re­work­ing his own ex­pe­ri­ences in a fic­tional guise.

The play opens in Jake’s New York apart­ment, where his writ­ing is in­ter­rupted by a phone call from his sis­ter Karen, pre­cip­i­tat­ing an ar­gu­ment. Af­ter he hangs up, he finds him­self talk­ing to a “ghost” of his wife, Mag­gie, who is away at work. She com­plains he’s al­ways work­ing and never has time for her. She briefly joins in a reen­act­ment of their first meet­ing, then tells him that dwelling on the past won’t do any­thing to save the fu­ture.

Jake then turns to the au­di­ence to ex­plain that his mar­riage is in trou­ble. He imag­ines a con­ver­sa­tion with his sis­ter, ex­plain­ing that he’s wor­ried that Mag­gie is hav­ing an af­fair. Karen shoots back with the ac­cu­sa­tion that he him­self had an af­fair with an ac­tress not long ago. At this point, the real Mag­gie ar­rives home.

Jake tells Mag­gie they need to talk be­fore din­ner. But when he tells her they have a din­ner date with Karen Satur­day night, she re­minds him she has to go to Philadel­phia for work over the week­end. Jake asks her point-blank if she wants out of the mar­riage, and an ar­gu­ment es­ca­lates from that point.

Much of the rest of the play, Jake in­ter­acts with the “ghosts” of the other women in his life — his daugh­ter Mol­lie, whom we see at her cur­rent age as a col­lege se­nior and as a 12-year old; his an­a­lyst Edith; and his de­ceased first wife Julie.

Gre­gory Mi­na­han, re­cently seen in the ti­tle role of Shore Shake­speare’s pro­duc­tion of “Mac­Beth,” makes his CHT de­but in the role of Jake. It’s al­most an un­der­state­ment to call it a de­mand­ing role; Jake is ons­tage for the en­tire play. Mi­na­han, who has been a singer and dancer in sev­eral Broad­way pro­duc­tions in­clud­ing “Cats” and “Peter Pan,” is an en­er­getic per­former. He ef­fec­tively projects the char­ac­ter’s in­ner tor­ments while keep­ing a light enough touch not to turn the play into a dark psy­chodrama. His strong per­for­mance is ex­actly what the part needs.

Chris­tine Kin­lock, who has ap­peared in sev­eral roles at CHT, plays Mag­gie, Jake’s se­cond wife. She nicely con­veys the essence of a woman try­ing to climb the cor­po­rate lad­der even though it is creat­ing con­flicts in her re­la­tion­ship to Jake.

De­bra Eber­sole, a CHT reg­u­lar, takes the role of Jake’s sis­ter, Karen. In a way, hers is the most comic role in the play, as she nags her brother the way only a fam­ily mem­ber can. Eber­sole does a nice job; it looks as if she’s hav­ing fun, es­pe­cially as she com­plains about the imag­i­nary fash­ions her brother has dressed her in.

Two ac­tresses play Molly, Jake’s daugh­ter. Their re­la­tion­ship with Jake is per­haps the most di­rect of any of the char­ac­ters; he says at one point that Molly’s the only per­son he has ever trusted.

Nina Sharp, CHT’s ex­ec­u­tive man­ager, plays col­lege-age Molly. Ri­ley Suther­land, a sev­enth-grade stu­dent at Centreville Mid­dle School, plays 12-year-old Molly. Both are con­vinc­ing and like­able in the role, and it’s even plau­si­ble that the one would grow up to be the other.

Jake’s psy­chi­a­trist, Edith, is played by Jane Cop­ple, an­other CHT stal­wart. This is an­other role with lots of comic po­ten­tial, and Cop­ple makes the most of it with wise­cracks about Jake’s ther­apy ses­sions and his sex life.

Ken­dall Davis plays Julie, Jakes first wife, who died 10 years be­fore the play be­gins. A Wash­ing­ton Col­lege grad­u­ate, she is mak­ing her CHT de­but with this per­for­mance. Julie is per­haps the warm­est char­ac­ter in the play, sweet and de­voted to Jake.

Becca Van Aken takes the role of Sheila, one of the women Jake be­gins dat­ing dur­ing his sep­a­ra­tion from Mag­gie. She nicely con­veys the char­ac­ter’s per­plex­ity at Jake’s sud­den changes of mind, as prompted by his “ghosts.”

The set, de­signed by Grasso and her hus­band Car­men Grasso, mixes sev­eral lev­els, rep­re­sent­ing the dif­fer­ent as­pects of Jake’s life and his imag­i­nary world. We see Jake’s New York apart­ment, with walk­ways above it where the “ghosts” ap­pear. Not as strik­ing as many of the CHT sets, but dra­mat­i­cally ef­fec­tive.

Da­matic light­ing ef­fects de­signed by Doug Kauf­mann un­der­score Jake’s “melt­downs” — a nice ef­fect that brings out the dif­fer­ent di­men­sions of the scene.

Barbi Bedell de­signed the cos­tumes, which ef­fec­tively con­vey the char­ac­ters’ sta­tus and sub­tly make con­nec­tions be­tween them. A nice touch is the cos­tum­ing in a scene where Julie and Molly meet, both wear­ing the same jacket — handed down from mother to daugh­ter.

The play runs close to three hours, with one in­ter­mis­sion. Com­bined with its adult themes, this one may be a bit much for younger theater-goer, al­though there’s noth­ing par­tic­u­larly of­fen­sive in the lan­guage.

“Jake’s Women” runs through Feb. 5, with per­for­mances at 8 p.m. Fri­days and Satur­days and at 2 p.m. Sun­days. For reser­va­tions, call 410-556-6003 or visit­hillthe­


Jake (Greg Mi­na­han, left) has a fond­ness for women of sub­stance like Sheila (Becca Van Aken, right) in Church Hill Theatre’s pro­duc­tion of Jake’s Women.

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