By Timothy Gregory
Directed by Lia Mortensen & Timothy Gregory
At Provision Theatre, Chicago
“And Jacob was left alone;
and there wrestled a man
with him until the breaking
of the day.” – Genesis 32-24
Jacob is a refreshingly thrilling allegory of fear, powerlessness and suffering.
Provision Theatre’s artistic director Timothy Gregory has written and co-directed (with Lia Mortensen) Jacob – a contemporary take on an Old Testament story of Jacob from Genesis. This is a family tale about the Isaacson’s, a wealth Chicago family as a crisis looms during the bar mitzvah of Josh, their son.
We meet the controlling father, Jacob (the charismatic John Mossman) as he nervously fidgets after damaging his front door to his high-rise condo. Jacob evokes fear as he asks for help from his friend and attorney Mike (Rod Armentrout) because he fears danger from his estranged brother Eli (Bryan Kelly). The details of the brotherly struggle concerns who runs the family business due to the sickness and retirement of the patriarch, now on his deathbed.
Jacob is so fearful that once he learns that Eli, despite a restraining order, attempted to visit the father in the hospital, he realizes the Eli will attack him at his home. It is only when not if. That news got Jacob to leave his son Josh’s (Johnny Rabe) bar mitzvah before the ceremony was finished.
Once the entire family returns to the condo, the verbal sparks fly especially from the controlling, manipulative and outspoken Beck the family matriarch played most effectively by Renee Matthews who can land a caustic barb as well as a a profound statement. Matthews anchors the action of act one. Chuck Spencer as the Rabbi and Rachel (Lia Mortensen) Jacob’s wife and son to Josh with Mike, the attorney add humor as the pointed argument ensues mostly between Jacob and his mother Becky. John Mossman and Renee Matthews ignite the family angst brilliantly.
When Jacob realizes that Eli is in Chicago, he knows that he’ll invade the condo so he makes Josh, Mike, Becky and Rachel vacate the home.
Act two finds the Jacob nervously awaiting Eli’s arrival but the alarm company repairman (Tim Gregory) arrives to fix the alarm that Jacob damaged earlier, the two quickly enter in a physical struggle that last for several minutes that becomes a vivid demonstration of the battle for Jacob’s soul. Who is this deft battler and why is he fighting with Jacob? Did Eli send him? Or is he an angel?
The stage combat between John Mossman and Tim Gregory was breathtaking, quite physical and exhausting (stage combat choreographed by Laurie McNeilly and Tim Gregory). I have never seen as long and thrilling stage combat as presented by Mossman and Gregory. The wrestle, fight with knives, swing fro lighting fixtures, they tumble, uch kick and grab each other in epic battle for dominance.
This cathartic battle was a redemption for Jacob as he struggled to free himself from his old habits that wreaked his own destruction.
Jacob is well written, free of direct religious sentiments; rather it is a refreshing different take on family dynamics. John Mossman and Renee Matthews lead the fine cast that also has nice work from Johnny Rabe and Rod Armentrout with fabulous fighting from Tim Gregory.
Jacob is the finest work seen on Provison Theatre’s stage in years! Don’t miss it
Date Reviewed: may 11, 2014
For more info checkout the Jacob page at theatreinchicago.com
At Provison Theatre, 1001 W. Roosevelt Road, Chicago, IL, call 312-455-0066, tickets $10- $32, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 1 hour 55 minutes with intermission, through June 15, 2014