Relationships are always a challenge given how much baggage each person brings into the mix. With the divorce rate as high as it is, perhaps love is an impossible emotion to maintain, yet so necessary. But how can two emotionally insecure people succeed as a couple if both are not fully committed to working things out no matter what?
Such is the premise of the famously pseudonymous Jane Martin as the playwright of “Jack & Jill” about two very different people trying their best to maintain a relationship that works for both of them. Jack’s eyes light upon Jill one day as she reads a book of poems by Sylvia Plath. He is immediately drawn to her and begins to pursue her even though she warns him that love doesn’t exist for her. Sex, yes. But love, no. There’s no special reason they should fall for each other, except perhaps loneliness. But fall they do.
The question posed in this thoroughly modern play is how can their relationship endure when the road is so fraught with obstacles, especially since they wind up living on opposite coasts? As we follow the couple through courtship, marriage and disillusionment, it’s questionable if they will ever realize how vital they really are to each other emotionally. When the play ends with a shred of hope that their love will be stronger than all their past trials and tribulations, we are reminded that true love has always been worth the effort.
The new production of “Jack & Jill” at the Santa Monica Playhouse reunites a trio of artists who achieved critical acclaim and popular success with their previous collaboration, a critically-acclaimed mounting of The Rainmaker in 2013. Director Jack Heller reteams with his stars Tanna Frederick and Robert Standley and no doubt their camaraderie assisted in keeping the pace and character development moving along at a fast clip, complete with more offstage costume changes than you would think possible given how quickly their lines often overlap. To give each other the needed time, both actors often speak directly to the audience from stage right or left to share their innermost thoughts on what confuses them about love and relationships during which time the other can change for their next entrance. It’s coordinated to a tee with little time to spare.
The play was written in the days before the internet and cell phones, making it feel somewhat dated when examining today’s dating world. But what will always ring true is that each person brings lots of baggage with them into any relationship and it is the ability to put all that aside and really listen to what the other person is saying from their point of view that will save it from failing. For me, this was the main message in the play, reminding us to put our own insecurities aside and share your feelings with honesty, knowing the other person is hearing you from your point of view – not judging you from theirs. It would certainly be wise for us to encourage the “me” generation obsessed with selfies to focus on the “us” to make the world go ‘round at a more even keel.
One of the breaking points for Jack and Jill occurs in the church just before their wedding as he confesses how much of a bad person he is since he knows he will cheat of her. Frederick’s Jill so wants to be in sync with someone, she assures Jack “I love you… or something. Just help me keep the faith.” Certainly not a great reason to get married, but one that Jack accepts and the ceremony begins. Not a great start for a relationship already on shaky ground with both people acknowledging each knows the possibility of failure is a sure thing.
As time passes, Jack and Jill trade places emotionally with Jill becoming the more emotionally stable while Jack turns off his feelings to avoid being disappointed yet again. But as expressed in the song “Fever,” sometimes the pull between two people just cannot be denied. But can a couple survive only that way? I am not sure the question is ever answered, but that hardly matters since Frederick and Standley shine in every single moment of the play, be it the good, the bad, or the impossible faced by Jack and Jill.
“Jack & Jill” continues as a guest production on the Main Stage at the Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth St., Santa Monica, CA 90401, through April 24 on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m. Note: the show is dark April 8-10. Call 323-960-1055 for reservations. Online: www.Plays411.com. Est. running time is 90 minutes, plus intermission.