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'Jack and Jill' a tart addition

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Steve Rosse
Saturday, November 29, 1997

Every year at this time area theatre goers are treated to a syrupy buffet of wonderful lives and passion plays, carols and nutcrackers and maybe even muppets on ice. But for a taste of something more meaty, and something even a little bitter, this year Riverside Theatre is offering us some serious relating in Jack and Jill.

Jane Martin's two character two-act dissects a relationship, not a love affair, but a relationship, between Jack, a needy photographer, and Jill, a needy physician. We follow these two products of their age as they discuss, and discuss, and discuss their needs and expectations and disappointments.

Describing love as being ready to talk about what you're feeling, Jack and Jill intentionally step all over each other's lines trying to get the last word in, usually speaking in fragments of sentences, in dialogue one moment savagely cruel and the next wickedly funny.

Under direction by Riverside Theatre Artistic Director Ron Clark, Jeffrey James Ircink gives the always insecure Jack a strength that would have been missed by a less competent actor. Watching Mr. Ircink is like watching a very good hockey player. Strenuous, difficult and sometimes dangerous work is made to appear effortless, and even fun.

But the real joy of this production comes in watching Tanna Frederick, a young actress who practices her craft with the skill that many don't acquire by the ends of long careers. As written, the character of Jill could easily come across as shrill, manipulative and just plain mean. But Ms. Frederick finds just enough humanity in the role to keep us interested in Jill's life and love.

One of the joys of going to any production at Riverside Theatre is in seeing how the play has been adapted to the limitations of such an intimate space. In this case the audience has been brought right up on stage creating a three-quarter-round environment, and it works very well. Those lucky enough to get seats on the stage are treated to an almost voyeuristic thrill as Jack and Jill deconstruct and recreate themselves within arm's reach.

The numerous scenery and costume changes made necessary by the anecdotal character of the script are handled by a chorus of four mute stagehands, who may linger to watch.

One of the most poignant images in Jack and Jill is a scene of two lovers dividing their books as they break up, and at the end of the play a single book is left on the almost empty stage. This book is a history of the Battle of the Little Big Horn, and the feeling we are left with is one of a guarded truce between two exhausted antagonists. It makes a welcome change from angels getting their wings.

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