We’re all human beings. We all celebrate and suffer, win some and lose some. When I go to a play or a movie, I want to see a slice of life. Something real. Something that reminds me of who I am, and lets me see one more time that I’m not alone in this life. We all experience it all. Take the character Jake from the play Jake’s Women. Here’s what he has to say:
“I care. I love. I’m miserable. I’m angry. I’m desperate. I’m hopeful and mostly I’m confused.”
Aren’t we all?
For the last three evenings, I’ve had the privilege of watching life on the stage, as portrayed with tenderness and humanity by eight skilled actors. I got to be sitting in the Pinnacle Playhouse in Belleville, Ontario for performances of Jake’s Women. Lucky me. Truly.
Here are the folks who acted in the play, and what I especially enjoyed about each of their creations:
Sophia Douglas-Najem portrays Molly, age 12
What a bright spirit. There’s a scene where Molly is meeting Jake’s new girlfriend Maggie for the first time. Maggie brought a giftwrapped book for Molly, but had been in such a hurry that she hadn’t noticed what book she’d grabbed. When Molly opens it, we see that it’s the 1981 World Atlas. Maggie’s all embarrassed, but Sophia as Molly looks at her with great enthusiasm and says, “No, I really need this for school because the names of the countries are changing all the time. This is terrific.” And Molly’s kindness shines.
After this meeting, father Jake asks daughter Molly, “What’s the absolute best thing about her? Sophia is so present when she replies “That she’ll make us all a good family again.” Her words hang in the air.
A few scenes later, young Molly is sitting with dad and older Molly (age 21). They start playing a game, naming actors and actresses. Jake suggests a couple and older Molly is faster than young Molly in coming up with the answers. Sophia is brilliant as she tries to get the words out, showing flashes of disappointment when her “sister” gets there first. Well done.
Judie Preece portrays Karen, Jake’s sister
Jake creates all these imaginary conversations with the women in his life, but he sometimes forgets to dress them well. Judie shows wonderful exasperation as she rips into Jake: “Where did you find this dress I’m wearing? This dress is not me. Bette Midler does a concert in a dress like this.” And Judie, facing the audience, does an exaggerated singing pose. Classic.
Shortly thereafter, Karen is consoling Jake about his former wife Julie, who died in a car accident, and about Maggie, his current wife. Judie lets her “brassy broad” image take a back seat as she softly says, “I’m sorry Julie died. I’m sorry that Maggie is so unhappy.” Then she immediately flips to “This is another good speech. Give me more lines like this.” Marvelous contrast.
Much later in the play, eyes wide, front and centre with the audience, Judie blasts out Karen’s lines: “You’re the star of the show, Jake. You’re the one they shoot out of the cannon and you fly around the tent with an American flag in your mouth and all the women go crazy and faint and they take them away to hospitals.” No lack of oomph in Ms. Preece!
Julie Bryson portrays Sheila, Jake’s new girlfriend
Jake is waxing poetic that Sheila is real, rather than the imaginary moments he has with other women in his life. “Dimensional. You have sides. You have a left side, a right side, a front side, a back side.” Meanwhile Julie as Sheila is twisting her body left and right, apparently fascinated with her dimensionality. It’s a very funny moment.
Julie expertly demonstrates confusion and frustration as Jake appears to be talking to Sheila, but really is telling the hidden Maggie where to get off: “You know what’s goddamn wrong. It’s you!!” Then all of Sheila’s angst bursts out in an impassioned speech that grabs the audience and hangs on: “You love me, you want me to move in with you but not today, later, in the future, someday, somehow, somewhere over the rainbow …” Julie sputters so well.
Then, in a flash, Sheila settles down, with Julie putting in calm pauses that work: “Alright. Fine. I’ll go to Bedford. If you want to go to Bedford, I’ll go.” I love contrast.
Bill Petch portrays Jake, a writer who lives in his head
Bill’s onstage for the whole play. Not only does he have control over an immense pile of lines, but he delivers them with marvelous subtlety of inflection and facial expression. He’s also great with the reactions when the conversation is taking place between two other actors. (I want to be like him!)
Bill is beautifully stunned when Maggie says she wants a separation: “Separate for six months?” He pauses masterfully after Maggie blasts him about not listening. “Jake? Did that go by you too?” ……………….. “No, I caught it.” He was so sad, just like the audience.
Further along, Bill demonstrates how Jake as a baby coped with his mother, who tied him to his high chair. “Couldn’t move my hands. Couldn’t push away the baby food I hated. I had to fight her off with my nose.” You had to be there!
There were so many great Jake moments. I especially liked it when Bill talks to us in the audience. “I was five years old in a third floor apartment in the Bronx, waking up from a nap and there’s no one there. My mother is on the fourth floor visiting a neighbor. I’m terrified. Why doesn’t she hear me? Why doesn’t she come?” I got your terror, Bill. Nicely done.
Dianne Wilson portrays Edith, Jake’s therapist
A prickly, officious one – this Edith, and Dianne pulls her off extremely well. Jake’s distraught that Edith doesn’t seem to have any empathy for him. Jake: “What do you want, a tap dance?” Edith: “Why not? You’re unhappy if you want to be. You’re lonely if you want to be. It’s your choice.”
Then Edith is pleading with Jake to tell her what he really wants, and the caring shows through Dianne’s high-volume voice: “Ask for it, then I’ll stop it … Ask for it, Jake. Please!”
In Dianne’s hands I really felt Edith in love with her own words. “You always have options. That’s what life’s about … Options … Options … I love how my voice trails off … Options … Options”, as she strolls off the stage. The audience loved it.
And then there’s the old non-verbal interlude. Jake’s heading to the bathroom while Karen and Edith are talking about him. As soon as he closes the door, the conversation ceases. I then got to enjoy Dianne examining her nails and plucking a piece of fluff off the arm of her chair.
Daria Coates portrays Molly at age 21
Molly is a young woman whose mother Julie died when Molly was only 10. Thanks to Jake’s vivid imaginings, Molly at 21 gets to meet her mom. The joy on her face as she crossed the stage to sit beside Julie on the couch was lovely. And then she spoke: “I have a million things to ask you. It’s like meeting someone you’ve always heard about. Like a movie star. Only it’s my mom.” (Sigh)
Julie asks about the young man who’s given Molly a ring. And Daria as Molly melts as she talks about her new love: “Well, he’s at Yale. The Drama Department. I met him at the theatre. He did a play there.” Such ordinary words, but Daria infused them with great happiness.
But there’s more to Daria’s Molly than sweetness. I was scared as she blasted her dad: “You bring us together after eleven years and you give us ten lousy minutes together. What is that? Why did you do it? It’s so damn cruel.” Ouch. And then, with Daria looking close to tears, “Why didn’t you leave well enough alone? What is it you wanted to see?” I’m exhausted even thinking about it. Good job.
Erica Holgate portrays Julie, Jake’s first wife
I loved seeing Erica burst onstage and throw her fury at Jake after they made love the night before (her first time): “Where were you? … Last night. This morning. Right now. This minute. How could you not call me? How could you not want to know how I feel?” Oh my goodness.
And then revulsion, as Jake explained their first time was 29 years ago, and had her see how old he is now: “You’re fifty-three? … and I slept with you last night?” What fun. But almost instantly, Julie mellows: “I do like the wrinkles around your eyes … and under them. It gives you – character. It’s nice.” Have I ever mentioned that I like contrast? Well, I do.
Farther along, joy is written all over Erica’s face. Jake: “You don’t know who Molly is?” Julie: (shakes her head “no”, then realizes) “Oh, God. We had a girl.” Such a string of very human moments.
Wendy Roy portrays Maggie, Jake’s wife
An infinity of subtle tones of voice and facial expressions come from this gifted actor. Wendy was a pleasure to watch. Let’s start off with funny. Maggie and Jake were reliving the cocktail party where they met. Maggie was talking to a yuppie couple about an upcoming election: “Oh God, I haven’t made up my mind who to vote for … No, I understand the issues, I just don’t know who’s running.” Sure it’s a funny line, but in Wendy’s hands it’s hilarious.
After Maggie has told Jake that she wants a six month separation, and has spent some time alone in their hot tub, she appears on the second floor of the set, dressed in a bathrobe. Maggie simply says, “Can we talk for a minute?” and the vulnerability in us all sees itself in her. Time stood still.
Towards the end of the play, Maggie’s love for Jake is in Wendy’s eyes: Jake: “You look about ten miles away from where I sit.” Maggie: “No, Jake. I think we’re so close. I swear. I think we’re only an inch or two apart.”
Jake: “Jesus, now I have to be the Messiah.” Maggie: “No, I’ll just settle for Jake.”
The individual performances were lovely to behold, but these actors were also so skilled in creating one-to-one relationships, priceless moments of contact.
1. Jake and Maggie talking about the two children they lost in childbirth. Jake: “We didn’t get any breaks, did we?”
2. Jake looking at Julie, in response to Karen saying she’s naïve: “No. She’s just young.”
3. Young Molly and Maggie, getting to know each other:
Maggie: “I was a cheerleader in high school. But I depressed everyone so they let me go.”
Molly: (Laughs) “That’s funny.”
Maggie: “It is? Oh, thank you, Molly. That means so much to me.”
4. Molly, Molly and Jake sitting together quietly, the kids loving their dad, and Jake loving them right back
5. Older Molly and Julie talking silently with great affection while Jake speaks to the audience
I had a great time
Thank you, actors of the Belleville Theatre Guild
You deserve great praise and happiness