Jack Afloat

An adorable slacker brings his romantic ideals to Berkeley's Aurora Theatre.

Jack is a sweet, adorable slacker who suffers from chronic brain
freeze and a paralyzing fear of the modern world. As the central
character in Bob Glaudini’s marvelous new play, Jack Goes
at the Aurora Theatre, he shambles through New York City,
looking utterly out of place with his white-person dreadlocks and
vacuous, wide-eyed stares. He’s a limo driver who lives in his uncle’s
basement, listens to reggae on cassette, and never gets in long-term
relationships. He either smokes too much weed or doesn’t smoke enough.
His closest friends are Clyde and Lucy, a bickering married couple who
alternately love and abuse him, since Jack lends himself to abuse. When
he finally meets the girl of his dreams it seems utterly impossible
that he’ll ever attain her. Thus begins an edgy coming-of-age story
that’s as much about alienation as it is about growing up and falling
in love.

Written and incubated at New York City’s LAByrinth Theater Company,
Jack Goes Boating marks a triumph for Glaudini, who has an
incredible ear for dialogue and a good sense of how modern people
interact with one another. Under Joy Carlin’s direction, the play
resembles a sitcom, with quick cuts and shifts-of-location that mirror
the fast-paced dialogue. Scenes tend to fade out rather than culminate
— at points, you can almost hear that Seinfeld bass line.
Equally important are all the signifiers of modern apartment life in
New York City: Lucy (played by the infectious Amanda Duarte) takes
pride both in the purity of her coffee (Kona or Sumatra) and the
potency of her weed (purple haze). Clyde (Gabriel Marin), who works
with Jack at the limo service, has a side gig teaching tai chi swimming
lessons (which seem a little more like kickboxing once he starts
barking commands). They answer the door with a rousing “Yo!” They waste
money on high-grade cocaine. They’ll stand side by side but seem
oblivious of each other, both absorbed in their own separate cell phone
conversations. They’re the dysfunctional New York couple whose foibles
get amplified by fast-paced city life and bad-economy blues.

Into this world walks local actor Danny Wolohan, perfectly cast as
the protagonist Jack. He’s the one guy pathetic enough to make Clyde
and Lucy feel secure in their relationship. He takes swim lessons from
Clyde, looking soft and lumpy next to his coach’s perfectly chiseled
pectoral muscles. He grills Lucy for romantic advice. He sets off
looking for “a positive vibe,” and finds Connie (Beth Wilmurt), a slip
of a girl who works with Lucy at a funeral home, selling bereavement
seminars via phone. (She can’t close a sale.) Connie seems like the
perfect counterpart for Jack. She’s a sweet, fidgety girl who, like
Jack, needs her foot surgically removed from her mouth. Connie is
convinced that every man in New York is out to molest her, from her
boss at the funeral home to the guy who broke her nose on the subway to
the nurse who helped treat her broken nose in the hospital. She’s a mix
of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and the Suzanne Somers character
from Three’s Company — a well-intentioned, ditsy blond
with a lot of bucolic sex fantasies (most begin in a rowboat and end in
the grass). Connie claims she’s not ready “for penis penetration,” but
that it’s okay for Jack to jack her off. Thus, it seems hopeless that
the two of them will ever consummate their romance. Jack’s willing to
give it a go.

Thus begins Jack’s endlessly deflected fantasy of going boating, a
concept so foreign that he over-enunciates the “t” in “boating” when he
talks about it (“Boh-ting“). Under Clyde and Lucy’s tutelage, he
learns how to cook gourmet food, how to “thrust” (in the pool, that
is), and how to philosophize about relationships (in Lucy’s words,
“Learn about shit you don’t like, and live with it”). Much of the play
goes toward the education of Jack, who serves as a sounding board for
Clyde and Lucy to complain about their own marital problems. Meanwhile,
he earnestly tries to be a better person, practicing his arm-thrusts
and reciting recipes while he hits the bong, in what might be the most
poignant moment of the play.

From the moment Jack arrives at Clyde and Lucy’s apartment for
what’s supposed to be his big dinner date, you sense disaster in the
air. Jack has paired a tattersall shirt and tie-dyed tie. He’s doing a
compulsive throat-clearing thing. Clyde and Lucy are snarling at each
other. Once Connie enters the room, the stage is set for spontaneous
combustion. Finally, we get to see the four characters all locked in
with one another, clashing personalities and quipping through
Glaudini’s script. It’s the setup for a perfect climax, in which all
the character relationships are put to a test. Amazingly, Jack comes
out of it having learned something.

Everything in this production seems true-to-life, from the cell
phones to the chic outfits (credit goes to costume designer Cathleen
Edwards) to the colloquial dialogue. But the real star is Wolohan, who
hews to the Freaks and Geeks school of acting with his loveable
sap of a character. Throughout the play, Jack drifts about trying to
find love and be a better person, or at least get a positive vibe. He
turns a whip-smart, high-velocity play into a sweet, traditional
comedy, and shows that it is indeed possible to find romance — to
go boating, as it were — in a contemporary world.


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