Three Ring Circus of the Mind: JAKE’S WOMEN at Playmasters

by Lesley Grigg

David Campbell and Andrea Ambs star in JAKE'S WOMEN at Playmasters Theatre Workshop in Bensalem PA through October 2.

The mind can be like the circus.  The mind is usually filled with memories, thoughts, emotions, plans, to-do lists, and reminders all at the same time, all while carrying the responsibility for telling the rest of the body what to do. The circus features multiple rings of thrilling spectacles, all with the Ring Master in the center, orchestrating the production.

In the latest production from The Playmasters, we see what happens to Jake, one Ring Master who may have taken on one ring too many and starts to lose control all because of JAKE’S WOMEN.

Jake (David Warren Campbell) starts off as the Master of his own mind, manipulating his thoughts to make sense of his life.  This is no simple task, since Jake’s personal life is a three ring circus, and then some.  Campbell exudes wisdom in Act One, as crazy as that wisdom may be.  He has to play a man who alters conversations with the women in his life all so he can write the next great American novel, and he does so in a way that’s witty yet dry.  His conversations with the audience felt very lecture hall like.  Flashbacks of high school history class interrupted his deep historical monologues about writing and his love life; yet, if I closed my eyes during Act Two, I could hear a Jerry Seinfeld like quality in Jake’s voice that made him more entertaining, and interestingly enough, helped me understand the character better.

In the first ring of Jake’s circus, we have his latest love interest, Maggie (Andrea Ambs).  Their first meeting was reenacted in Jake’s imagination complete with imaginary drinking, an imaginary spill, and some uncomfortable imaginary assistance in cleaning it up.  Even the audience was forced to use their imagination as we watched Jake and Maggie go prop-less and use cup shaped fingers and pretend sips instead.  Why?  I’ll never understand. 

The play took a major turn for the dramatic every time Maggie was onstage.  Ambs oozed drama, but at times made us drown in it.  The back and forth between Maggie and Jake was sometimes very Gone-With-the-Windesque, and frankly Jake’s coolness did little to balance Maggie’s opera-sized theatrics.  Maggie’s first meeting with Molly, age 12 (Samantha Tomasi), was the first time the frenzied Maggie act worked.  The nervous excitement created in this scene was believable and enjoyable to watch.  Maybe it was the addition of Tomasi’s sweet, innocent, and down-to-earth nature that was able to diffuse the situation even more.

Ring number two featured Karen (Regina Deavitt), in a circus made all her own by the way she was dressed.  Her personality changed as often as her outfits, but Deavitt did it in style and even found ways to interject bits of pop culture to liven things up. 

Another lively character is analyst Edith (Carole Howey).  With all the imaginary sessions conducted in Jake’s mind, it’s no wonder she’s needed.  Howey brings her excellent timing to this character, making her not only look and sound the part, but making it a joy to watch.

In the center ring of Jake’s heart is his first wife, Julie (Amelia Arrigo).  First appearing in the prime of her life, her heartfelt feelings toward Jake overshadow the fact that she can only be seen and felt in memories.  These memories are just as loving and real as any of his other women, but Arrigo really brings out the young naiveté that shows why this character is truly memorable. 

The last figment of Jake’s imagination is his daughter Molly at age 21 (Jacquelyn Green).  She had the teenage persona down, but there was something missing in her reunion with her long-lost mother.  While Arrigo’s feelings felt real, Green’s stiff body language and luke warm reactions seemed a bit underwhelmed, but there’s hope of a warm up after what could have just been opening night jitters.

One of the few “real” women on stage was Sheila (Beverly Sharp) who obviously had no clue what she was getting into when she decided to get involved with Jake and all the ladies in his head.  Sharp struck the perfect chord of confusion and even may have let some of Jake’s craziness rub off.  Some of the confusion may have rubbed off on the audience when, during what could have been an even more hilarious scene, Jake yelled out to the audience instead of at the source of his current female frustration.

Throughout the play, changes in lighting acted as smooth transitions from the scenes in Jake’s mind to scenes in real time.  Also noticeable was the lack of substance in the decor.  The picture frames on the walls were empty, adding to the empty feeling of the grey walls, and (according to an insider’s tip from Director Ron Green himself) symbolized Jake’s emptiness, despite the presence of all the women that filled his mind.

JAKES’ WOMEN takes inner dialogue to a whole new level, and we can see the change in Jake as he starts living more inside his own circus, he becomes less able to deal with reality.  One thing’s for certain, Jake is crazy about women, literally.   In the end it takes a miracle for him to realize why he’s so crazy, and what he can do to regain control and get his life back to his own personal “Greatest Show on Earth”.

by Neil Simon
Directed by Ron Green
September 16-October 2, 2011
Playmasters Theater Workshop
State Road
Bensalem, PA 19020

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