Review by Mark Andrew Lawrence
James Sherman’s comedy Jacob and Jack keeps the audience on its toes as it jumps back and forth between two generations. Backstage scenes depicting Jacob Sherminsky, a star of the Yiddish theatre in the 1930s are folded in with scenes of his grandson, Jack Shore, some 75 years later. Jack is preparing a special one-night-only performance that pays tribute to his grandfather, and we witness a number of parallels between the lives and the behaviors of both sets of performers. The first half of the play chronicles the back-stage chaos as the actors prepare for their respective performances. The second half takes place after the reportedly disastrous presentations with a good deal of door-slamming as the characters dash in and out of the three on-stage dressing rooms
In the title roles, Jerrold Karch creates two distinct characterizations: the flamboyant Jacob whose passion for the theatre is matched only by his passion for his leading ladies, and the dedicated Jack who faces his own challenges in both his profession and his marriage. Leah Charney portrays the wives of both Jacob and Jack, pointing out that both men essentially married the same girl. She brings just a hint of resigned acceptance to the role of Leah Sherminsky – knowing of her husband’s many infidelities – and a contemporary fire to the role of Jack’s wife Lisa.
Richard Hoffman doubles as Jacob’s tenacious agent and Jack’s vigilant stage manager Abe. The first generation’s efficient and eager-to-please stage manager is portrayed by Daniel Staseff , taking a different approach to each personality he meets. Staseff also appears in the contemporary scenes as Moishe, a young ambitious performer anxious to make a good impression. In this latter role he has some particularly fine scenes with Nicole Marie McCafferty as Robin, the nervous ingénue. McCafferty also appears as Rachel, the object of Jacob’s attempted conquest in the earlier scenes. The actress finds similarities in the roles that help her establish and maintain the two very different characters. Gloria Valentine in the role of Esther provides the story with the missing link that connects the two generations. Her sparkling performance as the stage mother Hannah in the earlier scenes is full of delicious little touches that light up the stage.
Teatron’s Ari Weisberg has worked with the cast and crew, particularly lighting designer Sylvia Farr to ensure the split second timings and costume changes are executed with military precision. There is never any doubt as to which character and time frame each performer is portraying. You do have to pay attention but it proves worthwhile as the comedy builds to a riotous conclusion. It is a joy to see another of playwright James Sherman’s comedies being given such an entertaining production.
Jacob and Jack plays in the Studio Theatre at the Toronto Centre for the Arts through Sunday March 10th. For tickets visit the website or call 416-733-0545.