4 Cents Review – When 2 reviewers each give their 2 cents.
Today Antonio Minino and Karen Tortora-Lee give their 4 Cents about Jacob’s House which is playing at The Access Theatre.
I am convinced of a few things regarding Flux Theatre Ensemble and August Schulenberg after seeing Jacob’s House now playing at the Access Theatre.
1) August Schulenberg is physically incapable of writing a bad play, even under circumstances which – to anyone else – would dictate otherwise. Also, I’m pretty sure he’s using some sort of magic pen.
2) Flux Theatre Ensemble is so rife with talent and so limitless in their craft that I think were they challenged to produced a show that consisted of nothing more than throwing tissues into the air during rush hour so compelling would their show be that they’d shut down traffic as an audience of taxi drivers, bridge & tunnel gals, and street vendors would all hush to watch them do what they do best.
Do I sound like I’m building Flux up to be more than they actually are? Perhaps. But I’m out of metaphors that do justice to this theatre ensemble, and now, this latest play, Jacob’s House, and its back-story (which I’ll explain) have me throwing glitter into the air in praise. So indulge me while I honor them.
The biblical story of Job has been mined for its metaphors ad nauseum – everyone who’s loved and lost or your sentence here and lost has been compared to Job. But who would have thought that the gods of Irony would have chosen to snicker at the Folks of Flux by watching as they prepared to produce J.B. (based on the story of Job) and then test their faith by taking the play away from them? Yet that is exactly what happened – mid step, with half of the production in full force the news came down that the play could not be done, and thus started the strange road that led to this magical story that became known as Jacob’s House written by August Schulenberg, directed by Kelly O’Donnell and cast with some of the finest actors in the business.
Walking into the Access Theatre is like walking into your grandmother’s attic, rafters and all. The set, designed by Jason Paradine, immediately transforms the room into a space of secret hiding places and dusty stories, the perfect setting for three children to discuss/quibble/fight over their father – Jacob’s – Last Will and Testament. Dinah, the oldest of the siblings (Jane Lincoln Taylor) would turn the place upside down if she could, seemingly searching for something that’s been long missing. Joe (Zack Calhoon) is the middle child who seems to find himself lost in the memories kicked up by the ghosts of the house and Tamar (Jessica Angleskhan) is the snappy, fast talking youngest “child”, part of the family in a more imaginative way, and much more set on the monetary value of everything and just wanting to get the house, the blessing, and get it all over with.
As the three battle out the inheritance, past melds with present and coexists in the same space, spreading out the history of the family that started with Jacob and ended with them. Color- and gender-blind casting do much to make this a magical tale almost immediately; anyone can be anyone in this story, and once that rule of “the first rule is that there are no rules” is established it becomes easy to buy into much of the magical realism that swirls around the theatre.
Unlike Karen, I had never seen a Flux show. I’ve wanted to since I first heard of the company back in 2008, when I collaborated with Flux member Marnie Schulenburg, but my company MTWorks and Flux seem to share the same taste in scheduling. However, after last night I have been banging my head with inanimate objects for missing 2 years of what, after seeing Jacob’s House, I consider exceptional work.
The word “ensemble” is one used with great liberty in NYC, mostly to categorize a company that uses actors on more than one instance, but a real ensemble is one that shares a same wavelength, that creates a taut line between all the actors, both on stage and off. And so, in that respect, the cast of Jacob’s House is a true ensemble, and under the direction of Kelly O’Donnell the lines are pulled taut and let loose at just the right moments.
I don’t know if Schulenburg has a magic pen, but he certainly has a steady grip — this is a well-focused generational play that studies the complexities of one single family during a time of exposed emotional gashes, and after all the greed, muck, jealousy and memories are cleaned off, the blood is thicker than any little old house, or sentimental treasure, as secrets are slowly revealed.
Singling out performers in an ensemble is a bit unfair, especially when the whole cast did exceptional work, not only at delivering their intentions, but also at listening (one of the hardest tasks for an emerging actor). Having said that — and with my apologies to the rest of the cast — I must highlight the work of Bianca LaVerne Jones and Isaiah Tanenbaum. Ms Jones juggles three characters; showcasing her ample talents and uncanny skill to interpret them with hardcore earnestness. Holding the key between past and present is Mr Tanenbaum who plays the Messenger. He is an imposing presence and the light of the play, even when his message is that of darkness.
I definitely agree with Antonio, that the secret to Flux’s success — as I’ve seen time and time again, but illustrated so beautifully in Jacob’s House — is how all the arms of talent reach out and clasp each other so firmly. Director understanding writer, ensemble understanding director, with sound design (Elizabeth Rhodes) and lighting design (Kia Rogers) skimming along the edges with just the right touch, like gilt on the edge of a beautiful book. One which – I still contend – was written with a magic pen.
~~~Jacob’s House Written by August Schulenburg Directed by Kelly O’Donnell Friday, April 30 – Saturday, May 22 Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 Sundays at 7:00 Access Theater 380 Broadway (at White Street) 4th Fl.** WALK UP ** New York City, NY 10013 (212) 966-1047 Purchase tickets HERE Groups of 10: Use code “10ANDUP” for the $10 group rate