The new Moonstone Theatre Company could not have had a more auspicious debut. Opening night was a sellout, and the production of Jake’s Women was excellent.
One of Neil Simon’s lesser-known comedies, Jake’s Women opened on Broadway in 1992. In the preceding decade, Simon had won high praise for a group of serious, semi-autographical comedies, beginning with the Eugene trilogy, and culminating in the Pulitzer Prize–winning Lost in Yonkers. In Jake’s Women, Simon continued in the same vein but with less acclaim. Judging by the Moonstone production, I’d say the play has not received its due.
The title character is a successful writer whose second marriage is at risk because he can’t get over his attachment to his late first wife. The same synopsis applies to Chapter Two, one of Simon’s earlier plays, but Jake’s Women is a more mature work in both construction and insight.
Jake’s imagination is on overdrive, even when he is not writing. He continually envisions scenes with the women in his past and his present, including both his wives, his psychiatrist, his sister, and his daughter at two ages: 12 and 21.
The characters in Jake’s mind appear no different to him and the audience than the real ones, so when he starts a conversation, it is not always clear whether the other person is real or imaginary.
The conversations in Jake’s head reveal a great deal about him and are often very funny. The second act ratchets up the humor when Jake tries to carry on conversations with real and imaginary characters at the same time. Simon raises the psychological stakes for Jake in Act Two when he must dig deeper into the cause of his habitual fantasizing and face the consequences.
In a program note, the director, Edward M. Coffield, recalls that Simon would advise aspiring playwrights not to try to make a comedy funny, but to “try and make it real and then the comedy will come.” Coffield has followed that advice in his direction. His actors are entirely consistent in their treatment of the humor. The laugh lines always register, but they do not interrupt the dramatic flow or impede the development of vivid characters whose fate matters.
The splendid cast includes Jeff Cummings as Jake; Jennifer Theby-Quinn as Jake’s second wife, Maggie; Sharon Hunter as his sister, Karen; Jennie Brick as his psychiatrist, Edith; Amelie Lock as young Molly; Carly Uding as older Molly; Marisa Puller as Jake’s first wife, Julie; and Mindy Shaw as Sheila, an outsider who is unequipped to cope with Jake’s antics.
Dunsi Dai’s scenic designs creates a flexible space in which characters can easily drift in and out of reality. The atmosphere for the show is enhanced by Michele Siler’s costumes, Michael Sullivan’s lighting, Amanda Werre’s sound, and Dennis Milam Bensie’s wigs.
Jake’s Women continues through November 21 at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center Studio Theater, 210 East Monroe Avenue.
Photo by Philip Hamer