Last night, Mrs. K and I made the 30 minute drive up to Lebanon IN for Center Stage’s opening night presentation of Neil Simon’s 1992 play, Jake’s Women. Not one of Simon’s more popular or regularly performed plays, Jake’s Women explores a crisis in the life of a writer (Jake), who must deal with some rather psychotic episodes in his self-controlled imagination: visions of important women in his life. Often suffering from writer’s block and in search of answers to his troubled life, he imagines scenes present and past with his wife Maggie, his daughter from his first marriage, Molly, his sister Karen, his analyst Edith, and his deceased 1st wife Julie. Using these imagined visits as an attempt to figure out why Jake and Maggie are on the verge of a breakup, Simon breaks new ground for his playwriting skills by exploring some very serious subject matter, although there are still many well constructed laughs to be enjoyed amidst the crazed and zany angst of his lead character.
The Center Stage production certainly does not disappoint. Under the carefully crafted direction of Jan Jamison, her talented cast members once again show just how amazingly good central Indiana community theatre can be. Young Julia Frisby and younger Bella Doss, share the role of Molly – portrayed at present age – 21, and past age – 12, respectively. Both give nicely rounded performances as Ms. Doss does a fine job delivering some typical Simonesque zingers while Ms. Frisby is especially effective in an emotional imagined reunion with her late mother. Pamela Kingsley is terrific as Jake’s analyst, Edith. Simon has loaded her dialogue with edgy comic lines, and Ms. Kingsley plays each opportunity to maximum effect. Sonja Distefano, as sister Karen, delivers a characterization that completely fills the bill. Nebbish, and lovingly intrusive and needy, Ms. Distefano adroitly shows how Jake’s psychosis may likely be a family trait. One of the few “real” and unimagined characters, Sheila – a woman that Jake has been seeing during a separation from his wife – is played to a ‘t’ by Tanya Haas. Ms. Haas handles the woman’s fears and comical misunderstandings with a frantic-faced flourish.
The two most important females in Jake’s life are his departed wife Julie and his present wife Maggie. Julie is done to perfection by one of my favorite young actresses, Addison Ahrendts. No matter what the role, Ms. Ahrendts seems to know how to show her character’s feelings with just the right expressions and movements. Here again, she brings that uncanny knack to bear when she appears in Jake’s memory pieces as a young girlfriend/wife and a wistful mother. Jake’s present wife Maggie comes to life through the talents of Tonya Fenimore, first as an unsure party guest in a memory when she and Jake first meet, and later as a mature and unhappy wife, who has had enough of Jake’s brand of mental misgivings and is unsure of their future together. Ms. Fenimore does a wonderful job with a difficult role which includes a very testing scene as she faces the truth about her needs and Jake’s shortcomings. Her Midwestern characterization is spot on, though it took me a short while to realize what she was doing with that aspect of her portrayal.
As good as the actresses are in their varied roles, this play belongs to Jake, played with complete abandon in a tour de force rendition by veteran actor, Laurence Adams. I have to say that very few actors in my circle could have accomplished what I saw Dr. Adams do with this character last night. Jake is complicated; a manic-depressive creature, controlling, angst-filled, living in his past, wanting to command his future, while lacking a basic trust for women. Adams soars through all these facets and more in a truly exceptional display of his thespian skills. I have seen Adams in many roles, and have directed him in one or two, but I believe he has hit a high mark with this depiction which features great comic turns, sorrowful enlightenments and near hysterical intrusions. It should not be missed.
Bottomline: Rarely do I make such predictions but I must say, there will likely be more than a few Encore nominations and some award winners resulting from this production. It is simply a rare gem in our community theatre circle. Director Jamison and her crew at Center Stage should be proud of their accomplishment. It is an outstanding production of a rather difficult play.
Jake’s Women continues through August 9th, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:30 pm at Center Stage’s theatre in Lebanon. You may call 765.894.5587 for reservations and information. Their website is http://www.centerstagetheatre.org .
* – Photo from the Jake’s Women Facebook page