theater (reviews)

review: love jerry

Love Jerry

by Megan Gogerty
Directed by Rebecca Wright
Musical Direction by Daniel Perelstein
Starring Scott Boulaware, Jered McLenigan, Rachael Joffred, DAvid Blatt, Maria Panvini, and Amanda Grove
Nice People Theatre Company at The Latvian Society, 531 North 7th Street, Philadelphia
production web site:
http://www.nicepeopletheatre.org/npt_home.html
June 4, 2010 through June 20, 2010

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
June 7, 2010

Love Jerry is a play energized by paranoia, anger, cultural frustration, and personal experience projected on a social problem addressed in a newish musical.  Pedophilia on stage.  This play touches on topics not alien to English-speaking theatre going audiences: How I Learned to Drive and Blackbird and more recently the Chicago Lookingglass production of Trust, all about adolescent women who had been abused or are about to be abused by adult men, some as memory plays, some in real theatre time.  The topic of adults who abuse and misuse children is here for us in our culture, in our art, in our theatre.   And Love Jerry deals with the intergenerational sexual abuse — the devastation and hope and possibilities of resilience and the pain of, in this case, young boys abused by adult men — with grace and beautiful music and spare theatricality.  And power. This is what I ask for from theatre in general.  And this play and this production deliver.

My particular experience on Monday evening of this week was energized before I entered the theatre by the refusal of a web site associated with a major news outlet in town several days before opening to run a video version of the advertisement you see on this page.   I am unclear on the reasons why, just very clear and aghast at the action.  The critic from that same news outlet attended a performance the opening weekend of the play and appears to have reviewed not the show itself but the themes addressed, the premises, perhaps in that critic’s mind the audacity of the playwright to create a play that examines a pedophile as a human being.  [see review here: http://is.gd/cFK5x%5D  I truly believe that this critic did not see the same play I did, for whatever reasons — personal intolerance of the topics addressed (in which case the critic should have used the “recuse” card) or something else not completely clear to me.  All I know is that resulting assessment (essentially “how dare they”) does not, in my estimation, constitute a review.

All that said, I wish to review this play.  At this time.  As I saw it at the theatre at The Latvian Society, with these actors, to this music, saying the words of this playwright.  Before entering the house, a representative of a child abuse support program enters and remains during and after the play to field any questions, concerns, issues by those who attend.  I learn that a representative attends every performance, and has a large table of materials outside.  This society for the prevention and treatment of child abuse endorses this play.

We learn that Jerry (Scott Boulware) has a house, we don’t know what he does for a living or where he lives (we suspect the Eastern U.S.), and his brother Mike (Jered McLenigan) and wife Kate (Rachael Joffred) and young son Andy (unseen) move in with him for financial reasons.  We gradually learn that this act of moving in with family was part of Jerry and Mike’s impoverished background — they lived for a time as children with an their uncle who it turns out molested both young brothers.  Twenty years later Mike has hit his own rough patch and moves his family in with his brother Jerry, who has kept feelings for young children (originally girls he just watched out his window) under wraps for years.  Now with a young child living with him, a child we know only through the conversations adults on stage have with him, Jerry’s pederasty is … given expression.  He abuses his nephew.  He encounters his demons and an inner voice who turns out to be his abusing uncle (David Blatt).  He is gets to know a proselytizing young woman Sheila (Maria Panvini) who provides some small moments of humor in the play.  And a therapist in the court ordered treatment center played by Amanda Grove is written theatrically, not stereotypically.  The play is about the portrayal of secrets and seclusion, of economic need and social awkwardness.  We are not asked to sympathize with Jerry in my mind, despite the play’s title.  We are not even asked to forgive him.  We are asked to confront this social problem with this particular family story head on.

Direction by Rebecca Wright utilizes a small space and the requirements of character movement with flow and acute awareness of the power of silence and the constant stare (which occurs more than once, this intense stare) by Jerry examining and studying the action of scenes while off stage.  His intensity is palpable.  His hyper focus on the family, this family that has come within his home, is awesome.  Takes your breath away.  Movement consultants Gregory Holt + Sarah Gladwin collaborated with Ms. Wright to craft choreographed movements that maintain this aching intensity through the taut 90 minutes of the play.  Caitlin Lainoff’s two by four set and spare multi-use structures for furniture, boxes, tree stumps and more puts edges on the story and illustrate that you don’t need walls and hidden places to create secrets.

Finally and perhaps first, the orchestration by Daniel Perelstein and the performances of Perelstein, Alex Wyman, and John Greenbaum playing at least nine instruments give voice to the haunting, sometimes Appalachian toned, painful ballads created by the playwright.  One small production quibble: this is a musical, so it is incumbent upon the production to list the titles of the songs and the characters who perform them as well as the musicians and their instruments.  A patron should go away being able to name the titles of the tunes that so move them.  Without this basic bit of information, similar to Act and scene titles if a playwright has provided those, we receive only a fraction of the information we should receive.

I was moved and asked to think and feel.  And this is what I want in piece of theatre.

© Martha Wade Steketee (June 9, 2010)

[6/10/2010: edits to clean up some sloppy grammar and correct the title of the play. ]

2 replies »

  1. Martha, as I see it, Gogerty endorses the same approach adopted by the Catholic church in its dealings with pedophiles: love, therapy and forgiveness. I don’t think that’s worked out too well for them. The show’s premise is fundamentally, dangerously flawed. I walked in there with an open mind (Really!) and walked out infuriated.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts!

    Per your request (and sorry it wasn’t in the program):
    Daniel Perelstein (piano, guitars, clarinet, accordion)
    Alex Wyman (bass, melodica)
    John Greenbaum (piano, guitars, cello)

    Lower A Branch (Mike, Jerry)
    I Can Teach You (Jerry)
    Move Closer (Jerry)
    Arbor Ave (Kate, Mike)
    Everything Is Fine (Kate, Mike, Jerry)
    Branch Reprise 1 (Jerry)
    Branch Reprise 2 (Jerry, Mike)
    Love / Poison (Jerry)
    Cry (Kate)
    I’ll Hold Up The World (Mike)
    I’ll Hold Up The World Reprise (Jerry)

    Thanks again!
    Dan

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