Hillary Clinton notwithstanding, things are simpler in a village than they ever are when you're living in the heart of New York City. Without readily available elders or sages, youthful dreamers are likely to attach themselves to anyone who might give them the time of day for personal guidance and advice. Likewise, in an urban jungle where nobody looks up to you, young urban professionals will deign to mentor any willing subject that comes to hand. That's the fundamental ecology at work in Robert Glaudini's Jack Goes Boating, at CAST through Feb. 11.
Clyde and Lucy are the married couple who guide Jack and Connie in the finer points of how to — and how not to — form a satisfying, long-lasting relationship. Clyde and Jack are both limo drivers, illustrating that it takes all kinds. While Clyde is clean-shaven in his conservative topcoat, Jack sports a shower of dreadlocks, a Rastafarian hairnet, and totes around a cheapo cassette player that endlessly repeats the reggae "Rivers of Babylon." Transforming Jack, who is loudly — and justifiably — afflicted with shyness, into boyfriend material will be a project. Cooking and swimming lessons are strewn along the way to Jack's ultimate goal, fulfilling Connie's wish to be taken in a rowboat.
The cooking lessons take us deep into the fault lines of Clyde's marriage, while the swim lessons become, quite overtly and hilariously, a metaphor for Jack's sexual awakening and growing self-confidence. Lucy is less inclined toward mentoring. Or kindness. No, as a telemarketing supervisor at a funeral parlor peddling courses on dealing with grief, she's more attuned to exploiting people's vulnerabilities. As Connie, her newest hire, flounders in mastering the predatory art of closing, Lucy offers no encouragement. But she does hit on the idea of matching Connie up with Jack, a move that inadvertently gives the aspiring telemarketer a sorely needed boost in self-esteem. Decked out in earlaps, Lucy seems ideally suited to becoming the woman who finally enables Jack to clear his throat.
Often acclaimed for his technical expertise, director Michael R. Simmons upstages himself with the work he has done with his actors. We've seen too little of Tony Wright onstage in recent years, and he's beyond brilliant here. With the comical aspects of Clyde's guru pretensions, Wright's as right as he was when he first came to town with his Shakespearean experience. But the dabs of New Yawk accent and Clyde's inner anguish are new dimensions outside Wright's comfort zone. Similarly, Greta Marie Zandstra applies a fresh coat of paint to her portrait of Connie, the latest in a series of quirky, comely twenty-somethings she has brought to the local scene. This one stands apart from that slightly homogenized sisterhood.
Marcie Levine Jacobs, who recently made her local debut climbing through the asylum window of Cuckoo's Nest, lingers far longer here, capturing all of Lucy's complex nuances — including her unexpected come-ons to Jack — without softening her core coldness. But the real wonder is Brian Willard in the title role, finally discarding the trademark smirk that plagued his past stabs at Macbeth and Prospero. There is much for Jack to accomplish with a meager vocabulary that includes little more than "Yeah," his nervous throat-clearing, and a shy smile. In simplicity, Willard has belatedly stumbled upon the Holy Grail of eloquence.
Allen Cassell's set design solves nearly all the technical challenges presented by Glaudini's wildly episodic script, but the quick transition preceding the concluding boating expedition was still longer than the scene itself. Otherwise, all flows smoothly, cresting in those Rasta swim lessons and a dinner party that careens from one crisis to another around a brand-new hookah. Jack cooks; wine, bourbon, reefer, hash, and lines of coke are consumed; and — best of all — everyone misbehaves.