By Raphael Beretta
Jake’s Women is a brutal journey inward, centered around the life of novelist Jake (played by Logan Monaco ’21) as he deals with a crumbling second marriage and the pains of letting go of his deceased wife. Set in 1990s New York City, Jake is visited by self-created manifestations of the women in his life. These visions serve to sort out his various psychological issues and point him toward painful catharsis. It may be the most personal play Neil Simon has ever written, and the most painful one to endure.
The show’s success rests on the shoulders of Monaco, as it is through his eyes that we are experiencing this world. Monaco balanced charm with neuroticism, accurately representing the arrogance and self-pity the author battles with. His performance warmed up throughout the show, starting with a light simmer and ending at a full-boil.
The two most important women in Jake’s life are his deceased wife, Julie (played heartbreakingly pure and naïve by Amanda Dettman ’19), and his fleeting second-wife Maggie (played by Lydia DeLuca ’20.) DeLuca played Maggie with a certain bitterness that only years of climbing the corporate ladder and running from a loveless marriage can bring. Dettman’s energetic and youthful portrayal of Jake’s deceased love embodied the pain of early loss.
The cast is rounded out by the other women of Jake’s life. The standout performance of the show, the acting that supported the emotional crux of Jake’s internal battle, was given by Rachel Lohrius ’18. Lohrius played the 21-year-old memories of Jake’s daughter, Molly. Her confrontation with the remembered version of her mother was portrayed with genuine sorrow and anger. At times, the dialogue became muffled by the whimpering and sniffling of the audience; her emotions were felt by all.
Jake’s therapist, Edith, was played like a sassy Lorraine Bracco by Lana Canton ’19 and the sharp-witted remarks made by Jake’s sister Karen were delivered hilariously by Molly Fedigan ’18. The acting in Jake’s Women was outstanding.
The intimate setting of the thrust-seating style placed the audience on the stage amongst the actors, enabling the audience to connect with the drama much more effectively than a conventional set. The sleek design of the apartment with leopard-print lamps, an elegant bar, and a raised-level workspace constructed like an altar to the typewriter was brilliantly put together. Small details like the bar-pretzels, perhaps an Easter egg to Lost in Yonkers (the recurring joke about stolen pretzels) or the Don Quixote poster (a callback to a line about the soundtrack to Lost in La Mancha) did not go unnoticed.
Jake’s Women was a powerful show about pain, loss, and intimacy, giving the audience a rarely-seen glimpse of the darker side of comic genius Neil Simon’s psyche.
Lost in Yonkers, considered widely as the pinnacle of Simon’s later work, follows Jay (Fred Darcy ’20) and Arty (Joe Lamberti) and their struggles to survive living with their tough-as-steel grandmother (Stephanie Hepburn) and their kooky aunt (Gabriella Morris ’18) in 1940s Yonkers.
The boys are left with no other place to live after their mother loses her battle with cancer and their father, Eddie (Cameron Smith ’19), begins losing his battle with loan sharks and is forced to go on the road working with scrap metal for the war effort. Their uncle, Louie (Ikponmwosa Osagie ’20), a bagman for a local gangster, joins the already-crowded house to hideout and offer the boys some life advice.
The thrust stage, matched with age-accurate furniture (complete with doilies on the sofa) and a stuffy arrangement, made for a claustrophobic experience that perfectly encapsulated what Jay and Arty were feeling. The sounds of the radio and voiceover from their father’s letters framed the setting artfully. Of the two plays, the blocking of Lost in Yonkers took more advantage of the thrust style, with the actors playing to every possible angle.
The costumes were done tastefully, remaining both appropriate for the time and accenting the personality of each character. Arty’s costuming especially served to represent his unique traits.
Darcy came out strong in his portrayal of Jay, firing off wise-cracks, performing impressions and demonstrating coming-of-age neuroticism that any Jewish New Yorker could recognize. Darcy’s talent blended well with that of Lamberti’s, as the hilariously honest innocence of the 6th grader was often met with disdain from Darcy’s Jay. The two had believable chemistry as brothers and played off each other masterfully.
Not a surprise (50 appearances in TV and film and a daughter on the West End is evidence for talent), professional actress Stephanie Hepburn shined as Grandma Kurnitz. Hepburn’s brilliant expressions of scorn, grizzled German-American accent and agonizing gait brought the character to life.
Her foil Aunt Bella, an immature woman-child with kind intentions, was portrayed well by Morris. Her performance was especially impressive during her emotion-ridden pleas to Hepburn’s character to allow her to marry a man and half-children, finally starting a life of her own after nearly forty years. Her childish attributes that started as both annoying and fodder for Darcy’s wit eventually formed the most tragic moments of the show.
Ikponmwosa’s Louie had a major presence on stage. He moved around with a power and weight different from the Richard Dreyfuss interpretation in the film, but an effective version of the character. Eddie (Cameron Smith ’19) and Aunt Gert (Brielle Wheeler ’19) added depth to the dysfunctional family structure of the house. Wheeler’s inhale-speak (made fun of earlier by Jay) destroyed the audience when first revealed, and Smith’s Eddie was nothing but likeable.
Lost in Yonkers presented themes of growing up and responsibilities to family, while teaching the important lesson that everyone deserves some understanding.
The Neil Simon Showcase presented two very different sides of Simon, but both shows included deeply personal confrontations and internal conflicts with inner demons among well-written characters. Both were at times cleverly funny and profoundly touching.
Directors Jim Steinmeyer (Jake’s Women) and Matt Andrews (Lost in Yonkers) executed the difficult undertaking of back-to-back shows masterfully, and gave each their own tone and personal flair while remaining faithful to the voice of Simon. MCCTA pulled off another mainstage success.