Friday, May 01, 2015

The Jacksonian

Kurt Johnson and Jaime Jones perform in “The Jacksonian,”
playing now at the B Street Theatre.
In the background is Jason Kuykendall and Gina Hughes. 
Courtesy photo
The best thing that can be said about Beth Henley’s “The Jacksonian,” now at the B Street Theatre under the direction of Buck Busfield and Jerry Montoya, is that with only one act, it lasts only 90 minutes.

Watching the audience leave the theater silently and one of the performers slipping out unobtrusively into the parking lot without glancing at anyone leads me to believe I am not alone in that opinion.
Henley is a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright; my husband turned to me at the end of this show and said, “I don’t think she won the prize for this one.” (It was for “Crimes of the Heart.”)

This story is Southern Gothic set in a seedy hotel in Jackson, Miss., with a load of family dysfunction thrown in just for fun. Publicity for the play says that it is “set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement,” but other than the fact that it takes place in Mississippi in 1964 and contains quite a bit of racist language, you’d never know it.

The set is quite nice (designed by Samantha Reno), with a bar along the back side, one of the hotel’s guest rooms toward the front, and an alley with an important ice machine along one side.

Dentist Bill Perch (Kurt Johnson) has moved into the hotel after having been thrown out by his wife Susan (Jamie Jones). He sees it as a trial separation. She holds him responsible for a hysterectomy he agreed to while she was under anesthesia. Daughter Rosy (Gina Hughes) is made the go-between, carrying messages back and forth to each of her parents.

As Dr. Bill plunges deeper into depression, he takes to sniffing nitrous oxide with the same sadistic glee as Orin Scrivello in “Little Shop of Horrors.”

The hotel bartender, Fred Weber (Jason Kuykendall) ,seems cheery and affable until he becomes weird and one wonders what he is hiding.

Housemaid Eva White (Tara Sissom) is voluptuous and sensual and desperately looking for a man, upset that she has been dumped by Fred and setting her sights on Bill, whose idea of “penetration” seems to be sticking his finger in her mouth. (Ironic that her name is “White,” as she is the most racist of the group).

One of these characters will die before the play ends, and another of the characters will be the murderer … and ultimately do we really care?

Disappointment with the script aside, the actors were fine. Johnson is pleasant and affable to begin with, hopeful for a reunion with his wife and a loving father to daughter Rosy. and then slowly deteriorates as periodic meetings with Susan go from bad to worse.

Jones is always fun to watch and she does “anger” wonderfully. I never figured out what she was wearing to the hotel, under her fur coat — a long flimsy formal gown, or her nightgown. In either event, it was perhaps a strange costume choice by designer Shelley Russell-Riley.

Hughes, as Rosy, seems to change in age from younger to older, depending on her hope for her parents to reunite, and her desire to flirt with Fred. She is plagued by a bad case of acne (another appropriate character name, perhaps), which doesn’t really seem to serve much purpose to advance the plot, other than to point out that she has been ostracized by peers for it. Until “acne” was mentioned, I thought she had a horrible make-up accident.

Kuykendall seems the most likable of the bunch until he shows his true colors as he leers at Rosy and begins to creep her out.

Sissom’s character delivers perhaps the most memorable line of the night, referring to her relationship with God, “Every Sunday I get His forgiveness. Regular, like a bowel movement.” Now there’s a conversation stopper!

The scenes are presented out of sequence, which adds to the confusion and leaves one feeling, at the end, that this is a muddled melodrama without much point.

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