Jack Canfora, whose plays have been winning him a promising reputation, has now offered us Jericho at 59E59 Theaters under the direction of Evan Bergman with whom he’s worked several times. Both have an enviable regional theatre background. Though I didn’t know their work, I noted that they’d assembled a first rate cast for the New York premiere of this new play.
I learned that Jill Eikenberry was reached at her home in Tuscany, asking her to meet the creators; she wasn’t immediately available, but she agreed to meet them at a later date because she was so taken with the material. The meeting worked, she was offered the role, and now she’s playing it in New York in a most welcome return to the NY stage. It’s odd casting, which makes it interesting, for this lovely lady, who was once the beautiful WASP girl friend whom Dudley Moore could not handle in the film Arthur is now, 40 years later, playing a very New York Jewish mother. Lo and behold she’s taken a stereotype and turned her into a very original character.
She’s Orphan Annie with a New York accent who is never fully dressed without a smile. Until she is crossed. Then she becomes a lady who knows how to give lip, how to express her very clear viewpoint, strong enough to call her son Josh a selfish indolent lout with no thought but for himself . I suddenly realized that Rachel, the Mother, had a lot in common with Amanda Wingfield of St. Louis who, in the 1930s laid her son Tom low with a similar outburst in The Glass Menagerie. I would not be surprised if Ms. Eikenberry tackled Amanda one of these days. And perhaps we could pursuade Cherry Jones who is playing her presently, to have a crack at Rachel. I mean why not? Perhaps in rep with each other, to give us all a real treat. Both are currently absolutely marvelous.
But Jericho is not all Ms. Eikenberry. Once again, (as in almost everything I’ve been seeing lately) an ensemble of fine actors has been assembled to play her two sons, Josh and Ethan, Josh’s wife Jessica, Ethan’s girlfriend Beth and a combination of Dr. Kim/Alec (Beth’s female therapist and dead husband Alec).
If that last confuses you, it won’t when you see the play — it’s just that Beth is, four years after the event, still riddled with guilt over Alec’s death on 9/11/2001 because she’d told him she was leaving him in a shouting match before he left for work that day, and she often “sees” him when talking to someone else. It’s another family play, in which guilt is one reason a family is about to implode, as Josh and Jessica finally come to terms with the irreconcilable differences that will destroy their marriage, as Beth works her way through to a happier future, one in which she can finally lets Alec go.
Mr. Canfora has put some very real people onstage. I only quibble with his gifting them with one-liners that are more his than theirs. Virtually each character has some laugh lines that work, but seem imposed on them. This doesn’t diminish the excellent dialogue which springs forth naturally throughout the play, it merely intrudes now and then. Some of the laughs just don’t ring true to the character who delivers them.
Evan Bergman’s production is interesting and effective. The stage is littered with discarded furniture and artifacts, presumably from the lives of these people and Mother Rachel’s home in Jericho, Long Island, where she raised her two boys. I’m not much into metaphor but I must assume we are to think of the biblical battle, even more so because one of the sons is called Joshua. Were I the author, and were I to be queried on the hidden meaning in all this, I’d say, as Harold Pinter once did in similar circumstances, “It’s all in the script.” It’s theatrically effective, though, to have each actor pick up a necessary chair, lamp or dining table as needed for the scene about to be played, and return it to the pile when that scene is done. I would assume (though I don’t like doing all that work) that the mess onstage reflects the mess we’re about to see played out in the text. But don’t let all that folderol put you off .
Mr. Canfora has written an engrossing family play, and Mr. Bergman and his excellent cast have delivered it honestly and powerfully. It’s difficult not to be partisan in responding to these vivid characters, but each of them is clearly captured in the writing, and in the playing as well. There’s a lot of good stuff up there on stage at E. 59th Street and I highly recommend you visit these volatile folks. For the record, in addition to Jill Eikenberry, this fine cast includes Noel Joseph Allain as Josh, Eleanor Handley as Beth, Kevin Isola as Alec/Dr.Kim, Andrew Rein as Ethan and Carol Todd as Jessica. There isn’t a bad apple in the basket, and if good acting and writing interests you, you’ll have a feast visiting Jericho.
Jericho is onstage in Theater B at 59E59, 59 East 59th Street, NYC 20022. Details and tickets.
Richard Seff, Broadway performer, agent, playwright, librettist, columnist adds novelist to his string of accomplishments, with the publication of his first novel, TAKE A GIANT STEP. His first book, Supporting Player: My Life Upon the Wicked Stage, celebrates his lifetime on stage and behind the scenes. Both books are available through online booksellers, including Amazon.com.
He has also written the book to SHINE! The Horatio Alger Musical which was a triple prize winner at the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF).
Each year, Actors Equity recognizes the year’s most outstanding supporting player with, appropriately enough, the Richard Seff Award.
He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.