by Michael Grossberg
Relationships aren’t easy to sustain, often have ups and downs, and can go sideways, despite the best intentions.
“Jack and Jill” persuasively probes beyond the initial meet-cute and/or meet-awkward moments of most romantic comedies to explore what can happen in a courtship, marriage and years afterward.
Red Herring Productions’ deft revival, which opened Friday at the Franklinton Playhouse, proves that Jane Martin’s contemporary “dramedy” can still pack an emotional wallop.
Director Michael Garrett Herring does a good job knitting together the episodic peaks and troughs of love while making fine use of a stripped-down staging that highlights the theatricality of the two-character piece.
No wonder: Herring has benefited from practice, having staged the central Ohio premiere about two decades ago for Red Herring Theatre Ensemble, a predecessor to his current company.
Michelle Weiser and Rick Clark mesh extremely well as the title characters seduce, parry, thrust, foil or plead with each other for more – or less – or just something different. Their conflicted and ambivalent chemistry is mesmerizing as it illuminates the eternal dance of intimacy and independence, fear and desire.
As Jill, Michelle Weiser projects a feisty, skeptical and practical side that nicely balances Jack’s “niceness” and impulsive romanticism.
Full of intelligence and strength fueled by long-simmering anger, Weiser is convincing in the more-complex and less-likable role.
As Jack, who makes the first overtures to connect, Patrick Clark captures the erratic dynamic of a well-meaning guy who’s not always in touch with his feelings or aware of his controlling behavior.
Together, the two actors capably navigate the tricky undercurrents of emotion and the choppy dialogue. The latter adds a lot to the play, as Martin’s realistic rondelet of fits, starts, pauses, interruptions and overlapping conversations reflect the evolving relationship of two people who increasingly know what each other means without always having to complete their thoughts.
Four dressers (Jim Coe, Nick Martin Hannah Portman and Beverly Tyler) amplify Martin and Herring’s minimalist approach and largely blank stage by bringing in or removing props, furniture and even clothing for quick costume changes as needed to define or redefine the mutable setting over many years.
Although Martin’s bare-bones staging concept seemed fresh two decades ago, with a metaphoric resonance about the shifting and improvisational realities of any evolving relationship, it’s beginning to date this play and occasionally slows down the otherwise brisk pacing.
Kurt Meuller’s chameleonic lighting, Dave Edwards’ sound design and Brian A. Palmer’s vivid and varied costumes reinforce the mood of change in an uncertain world.
The two-act play is suggested for mature audiences because of brief profanity, brief partial nudity, and a few scenes involving alcohol or marijuana, but mostly for intense adult themes.
Martin, an anonymous playwright, is better known for the Pulitzer-finalist drama “Keely and Du” and the women’s monologues of “Talking With...” but “Jack and Jill” is one of her (or his) best.
Red Herring Productions will present “Jack and Jill” at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through June 16th at the Franklinton Playhouse, 566 W. Rich St. Tickets cost $25 in advance, or pay what you want at the door. Call 614-723-9116 or visit www.redherring.info