Confusing in All the Right Ways
Review of JACK & at On the Boards, written by TeenTix Press Corps Member Juneaux L!
Going into a performance or art display of any kind without given any sort of information about the performance beforehand is certainly a curious and exciting experience. Going in to see JACK &, this fact didn't change. I found the steadiness of the fish in the bowl theme to be quite intriguing, given the fact that, in hindsight, I believe it represented much more than what it originally seemed to.
The beginning set up of the show is a blue and turquoise mandala in the center of the stage; on its outskirts, a fishbowl and some cans of Crush soda sit on a stool. Green racks stand to the right side of the stage. On the left sits a computer and speakers on a table, and behind that is a circular tarp.
Jack enters the stage silently, standing in the center. He waits for the audience to organically reach silence. He begins with a monologue that sounds just like a real person you know talking to you. He wears basic clothes (white shirt, black pants, glasses) and talks about many different things. Among his points, he mentions some instances of hilarity regarding conversations with someone he knew called Half-Step. He carries a calm demeanor throughout the monologue, and soon comes to his take on how he believes in recipes. The concept that everything has a recipe is a theme that is carried on throughout the show. He also mentions incarceration, and makes the comparison to how it must be similar for a fish in a fishbowl, how there are only so many places in the bowl. As he explains this, he begins to reenact his point by running around the mandala circle in the middle of the stage.
Cornell Alston in JACK &. Photo by Christopher Myers.
The scene shifts dramatically—Jack puts on an apron, and a table, fridge, and door are added to the scene. This shift opens up room for the other two characters, Jill and Jack (not the same Jack as the one in the beginning). The significance of having two Jacks gives the first Jack someone to contrast with. It becomes somewhat clear that the second Jack was meant to mirror the first, and give Jack #1 a comedic alter ego that makes everything he's trying to accomplish more difficult. For example, Jack begins to bake a cake for Jill, and while she’s gone, Jack #2 comes over to help. But Jack #2 gives Jack #1 awful suggestions on which ingredients to use, to the point that the cake would be terrible. However, once Jack #1 finally waves Jack #2 away, that’s when he starts to make positive connotations about the cake as he stirs it.
A big part of the performance was how Jack feels he must prepare a cake for Jill. I didn't quite understand the significance of the cake, until I realized that it was a subliminal characteristic of Jack’s belief in how everything involves a recipe (which he had mentioned earlier in the performance).
Later, there is a scene where Jack doesn't want to allow Jill to go out for tea with her friends before he had finished making her cake. I found it interesting how Jack became quite hostile with Jill in this scene, and how he also showed a sliver of this hostility when asked when the last time he had bought Jill flowers. I felt that these points in the performance were relevant because, not only did it keep in line with the 1950s housewife trope portrayed by Jill, but it gave Jack a personality edge that was reminiscent of Ralph and Alice from The Honeymooners.
Cornell Alston in JACK &. Photo by Christopher Myers.
The scene shifts to a ballroom dance between Jack #1 and Jill, and is also collaborated with a sort of ritual dance from an unnamed figure wearing long orange robes that covered their face. This entire section encapsulated a dream-type sequence and incorporated the use of many dramatic lighting changes, projected video of the actual fish swimming in the bowl, and an aerial view of the stage projected onto the circular tarp. All of these aspects gave the perfect feeling for the recurring “Fish in the Bowl” theme.
The stage set was the first thing I noticed as I entered the theater, and I loved the way all of the set pieces ended up being used within the show. The set’s physical attributes, transitions, use of the stage itself, were the most satisfying part of the performance. The show had many different tones, and the lighting, sound, and scenery were original and executed very smoothly throughout. I especially liked the way that, during the dance/ritual sequence, the lighting colors and moods shifted fluidly from ballroom dancing to ritual dancing.
I would have liked the point of JACK & to be a little more clear, but that's probably just my reaction as someone looking in on the project rather than actually have been a part of it.
However, I did feel as though I played a role as an audience member, because of the way the performers constantly broke the fourth wall.
I found this performance to be somewhat confusing, but it was confusing in all the right ways. From the contrast in the character’s demeanors, to the running themes of misunderstandings, dreams, and feeling trapped, this piece was an interesting and unconventional commentary about the way we view and treat others, and how we view and experience ourselves in times where we feel trapped. All in all, I found this show an interesting way of expressing emotion through acting, dance, and scenery.
The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.
This review was written as part of the Adventures in Contemporary American Culture workshop which was produced in partnership with On the Boards. It was edited by performance critic Omar Willey, and TeenTix Press Corps Manager Mariko Nagashima.