Jacob and Jack

By James ShermanJacob and jack at victory gardens theater

Directed by Dennis Zacek

At Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, Chicago

Hilarious backstage world premiere farce is a gem!

Ensemble playwright James Sherman has had 13 of his plays produced over 25 years with Victory Gardens Theater, many directed by Dennis Zacek.  Sherman’s latest comedy is a clever  tribute to Yiddish Theatre as well as to vain glorious stage actors. Jacob and Jack is a smart farce. Set in Chicago at Ruskin Theatre, we meet Jack Shermerinsky (Craig Spidle) a middle aged failed stage actor  famous for doing TV commercials out of LA. Jack has agreed to do a staged reading in Chicago with his wife Lisa (Janet Ulrich Brooks)  to appease Jack’s mother Ester (Roslyn Alexander). Robin (Laura Scheinbaum), a young actress rounds out the cast. Don (Andrew Keltz) is the event’s stage manager and Ted (Daniel Cantor) is Jack’s agent manager.

Jacob and jack at victory gardens theater

We get to know Jack as a womanizer and as an unfaithful husband. Jack’s ego doesn’t allow him to rehearse, especially for a staged reading. He meets Robin and immediately goes into his ‘flirting voice.’ Now that playwright James Sherman has established the contemporary characters, he uses wigs as a transitional device to go back in time.

Jacob and jack at victory gardens theater

Once Jack dons a small mustache and a full head of hair, he not only ‘plays’ Jacob in the stage reading but he moves back 75 years and becomes his grandfather Jacob. To assure smooth time transfers back and forth, Sherman has Ted do a quick change to become Abe, the Yiddish Theatre’s stage manager  from 1935. Sherman has Don, the contemporary stage manger, change into an Eastern European dressed young actor, Moishe who is breaking into Yidddish theatre to work with the Great Jacob Shemerinsky. Both  Daniel Cantor and Andrew Keltz do yeoman work as both characters.

Jacob and jack at victory gardens theater

Roslyn Alexander plays both Ester – Jack’s mother and Hannah – Rachel’s mother. Once wigged, Lisa becomes Leah – Jacob’s wife and Robin becomes Rachel – butcher’s daughter seduced by Jacob to become an actress.

What makes this comedy work so well are several overlapping stories that produce twists and awkward situations: the similarity between Jacob and Jack , the role of both jealous wives and the ingenues, the dominating Jewish mothers and the manipulating manager.

This door-slamming comedy necessitates split-second timing, quick changes and sharp character changes. This terrific cast easily establishes the persona and the ‘rules’ of the time change. With each slamming door, the mayhem moves to another plausible yet wacky situation. Craig Spidle  anchors this clever comedy as Jack/Jacob. Who knew Spidle was such a fine comic?  The cast featured the biting comic chops from Janet Ulrich Brooks with help from Roslyn Alexander and Laura Scheinbaum.

Sherman laments the demise of Yiddish Theatre and he pokes fun at the tribulations of fading  middle aged actors.  Sherman’s backstage comedy has one driving force – that, no matter what, in Yiddish Theatre and contemporary theatre – the show must go on.  Sherman sure has a refreshing way of writing plays about how traditions and values are passed on from one generation to the next. He does so  with most engaging characters spouting one-line zingers moving frantically to totally engage us. You’ll laugh at Jacob and Jack.  Sherman, indeed, once more live up to his handle: “The Neil Simon of Lincoln Avenue.”

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

At Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln, Chicago, IL, call 773-871-3000, www.victorygardens.org, tickets $20 – $48, running time is 90 minutes without intermission, Tuesdays thru Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 5 & 8:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm.