By Neil Simon
Directed by Ed Weaver
Starring Trent Fucci, Linda Farmer
UCF Conservatory Theater, Orlando FL
A tortured writer haunted by the ghosts of the women past – where have we seen that before? Jake’s (Fucci) current wife Maggie (Farmer) is a weak replacement for Wife 1, Julie (Brit Cooper Robinson). Julie died in a car accident, and Jake spends his idle moments imagining conversations that might still occur between her and the other women around him. Maggie senses something is wrong, and while they share a bed, it’s not even platonic anymore. As things spiral down in to relationship hell, perhaps a trial separation will resurrect the happiness of earlier days. The toxic cocktail of past longing and present guilt keep Jake in a permanent state of self induced misery and drives the story forward. His imaginary shrink Edith (Kristen Shoffner) offers the advice he wants but won’t follow, and when he imagines a pass, she easily deflects him. Jakes argues with his apparitions and loses – Twelve year old daughter Molly (Kristen Gunderson) offers precocious advice and Sister Karen (Megan Wiley) points out her only makes her say what he wants and he still loses to both of them. Only the real life girlfriend Shelia (Brooke M Haney) has the sense to flee when Jake argues with an imaginary Maggie. Inscrutably attractive to women despite his self absorption and fear of commitment, he seems destined to collect doomed relations. Is this guy a Shmendrik or what?
Jake’s lives in a stunning blue themed temple to writing designed by Ryan Emens. The nave holds the sacred Royal Underwood surrounded by a nimbus of books. None of the women, real or imagined are allowed up here, although Maggie gets as close as the first landing of the stairs. It’s not clear she could survive viewing the face of Jakes internal glory, or in seeing it realize it’s just another mirage of his own making.
Fucci’s acting is a little over the top – he out Woody Allen’s Woody Allen with his Jewish guilt. None the less, he charms the girls with that Lost Little Boy quality that oozes “Save me, I CAN be changed.” He can’t, of course, there are some male characteristic that are so innate no feminine power can repair them. Maggie seems a bit strident – as the career woman on the go, she represents the mirror of a classic 50’s Man in the Grey Flannel Suit. Neither party to this union understands or is interested in the other. Of the supporting actors, I found Edith’s earthy sensuality most attractive. She even rationalizes an otherwise inappropriate relation with a client by clever use of referrals. And little Sheila? For a real, flesh and blood woman, she was the only one smart enough to pack and run when Jake reveals his true colors.
“Jake’s Women” makes an enjoyable evening out of a convoluted and perhaps common situation. Unlike the typical dramatic love story, there’s not a clear Happily Ever After resolution, no one makes the dramatic, committing decision that will repair the marriage, and the ghosts of past still linger, even if Jake can no longer summon them at will in his Story Mind. Maggie and Jake are together, Julie, Edith, and Karen might be gone on holiday at the curtain, but if this was Real Life, I’d be willing to bet on a sequel.
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