The Jacksonian

By Beth Henleyjacksonian

Directed by Joe Jahraus

At Profiles Main Stage Theatre, Chicago

Wacky characters in dark humor and reckless situations inhabit seedy Southern hotel

Profiles Theatre loves to find weird, seedy, and violent plays. Their latest, The  Jacksonian, by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Beth Henley (for 1979 Crimes of the Heart) is a confusing, underwritten, Southern Gothic, darkly humorous, and violent drama peopled by a worthless set of losers.

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It is 1964 in Jackson, Mississippi at the seedy hotel, The Jacksonian. Local dentist, Bill Perch (Tim Curtis), currently estranged from his insane wife Susan (Rachel Sledd), is now staying there. He has his weird teenage daughter, Rosy (Juliana Liscio), with him. Rosy acts as the narrator, setting up scenes with an almost incoherent fog-induced dialog. 

Jackson, Mississippi has a series of KKK bombings of a Black church and a robbery-murder to deal with. At the hotel, we meet the sword-swallowing bartender, Fred Weber (Christian Isely), who loves to embellish about his past and who just may be a murderer. Lastly, we meet the waitress/hotel maid Eva White (Betsy Bowman), who thinks everyone who she has sex with intends to marry her including Fred, whose excuse for delaying their nuptial is that he is terminally ill.

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This wack collection drinks too much (except the ultra-nerd Rosy), is too sex-charged, and strained socially. We see Dr. Bill deteriorate as his marriage to the insane and neurotic Susan causes him to self-destruct, leading him to erotic sexual actions and ultimately violence. Everyone here comes unhinged in a never-ending downward spiral that is almost too absurd  to be credible.

My problem with this play lies in the writing, which finds little to explain the motivation for much of the zany and ultimately violent self-destruction behavior. Either there was something in the air or drinks served at the Jacksonian, or playwright Beth Henley was trying for a satire of the Southern Gothic with her collection of extremely flawed losers? Despite the terrific performances by Tim Curtis and Rachel Sledd, I felt manipulated by the plotting as the absurd actions and deterioration of the characters seem forced and too incredible. I’m at a loss to understand or appreciate this unfocused and implausible play. I wonder why Profiles Theatre selected this strange play? I left the theatre quite unsatisfied. The talented cast deserved better material. The set (designed by Katie-bell Springmann) and the intense performances saved the work for me.

Somewhat Recommended

Tom Williams

At Profiles Theatre (Main Stage) 4139 N. Broadway, Chicago, IL, call 773-549-1815, www.profilestheatre.org, tickets $35 – $40, Thursdays & Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 5 & 8 pm, Sundays at 7 pm, running time is 90 minutes without intermission/