Karen Walsh and Eddie Kaye Thomas in the Page 73 production of Jack's Precious Moment. Photo by Evan Sung.
BOTTOM LINE: A wonderfully performed new play about a misfit family struggling with the sudden and horrific loss of their son/brother/husband and the emptiness of their own lives.
In Samuel D. Hunter’s new play, Jack’s Precious Moment, the title character is already gone, but he is omnipresent in the grief and acting-out of the family he has left behind. Killed while working in Iraq building cell towers, Jack leaves behind a father, brother, and wife who each must weave truths and delusions into a life raft in the turbulent seas of sudden grief.
But it’s funnier than it sounds, because in this family’s hunt for resolution, the audience goes on a journey with them to the Precious Moments park in Missouri, where they meet a flamboyant carny and his deadly fair ride, a life-size Precious Moments angel, and all the airplane glue a small-town Wal-mart can supply. In the tradition of the movie Garden State, Jack’s Precious Moment carries a quirky sensibility and an ironic humor as the characters act out in bizarre and unexpected ways, interacting both with one another and with their grief, their pasts, and the lost Jack who wasn’t always such a great person.
The performances in Jack’s Precious Moment are superb. Eddie Kaye Thomas is natural and real as Jack’s brother Bib and as such is highly compelling in a space where the audience is no more than five feet from the actor at most times. Karen Walsh gives us an increasingly heart-breaking portrait of Jack’s widow, a woman who was pulled up from a life of drugs and self-destruction only to be put back in a harmful situation when she married. Tom Bloom is the perfect father in denial, insisting that his son was a war hero and a good person. I was most impressed, however, by Lucas Papelias’s physicalization of the rogue, gay carny Chuck. Of all these characters, Chuck is the most extreme, and Papelias conquers that challenge and uses it to further propel his character and the understanding of him. In a tiny theatre, the performances become the most important element to the audience, and this ensemble of five actors brings a world to life in a simple, stunning way.
Equally ingenious is Lee Savage’s set design. Through Murphy beds, walls that open out like story books, and multi-functional base pieces, Savage manages to create myriad vibrant locations within this confines of about 200 square feet of stage space. And within those changing spaces, the tone ranges from radiant to melancholy with shades of crushing mundaneness in between.
Jack’s Precious Moment is a must see for audiences who love irony, innovative new theatre, laughter through tears.
(Jack’s Precious Moment plays at 59E59 Theatres, 59 East 59th Street, through Sunday, June 13th. Performances are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30, Thursdays and Fridays at 8:30, Saturdays at 2:30 and 8:30, and Sundays at 3:30. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased by calling 212-279-4200 or at www.ticketcentral.com. For more show information visit www.59E59.org.)