Barking Dog Days and CEOs—Don’t Be Surprised If It Bites!
Which is better? To succeed in the competitive struggle to reach the top floors of the corporate tower or to be unceremoniously dumped down the stairs and shown out the door?
According to the play I just saw at Norfolk’s Generic Theater, neither will bring Jack or Jillian fulfillment. In fact, there’s no telling what will bring them fulfillment.
But a commitment to rising in the corporate tower is definitely a life purpose they share. (Well, there’s also alcohol.)
Jack and Jillian, a substantive, two-scene comi-drama by Norfolk playwright Denise Dillard—the second production in the Generic’s New-Plays-for-Dog-Days summer season—pokes satirical fun at corporate existence, but it’s not all funny. A lot of it is pointed and poignant.
Jack, a successful executive in the corporate command structure, is surviving very well. But he’s not living. In fact, he’s miserable. He longs to escape. If only he could persuade Jillian to marry him and run away together. Barring that, he’ll fantasize riding his motorcycle into the sunset with Joy, a bohemian hitch-hiker of his imagination.
Jillian, for her part, thinks Jack has lost it. She has no intention of leaving her job. She’s committed to the corporation. She has responsibilities—and ambitions. She doesn’t even want to get married. It’s not necessary to their relationship, she says.
Complicating Jack’s relationship stresses is Barry, his buddy, a drunkard with little faith in Jack’s judgment. He wants Jack to go out with him for a few beers and forget his troubles. But Jack is past the point where that’s going to help. He’s stuck, fantasies and all—at the top.
That’s Scene One. Scene Two rises on Jillian in a state of disintegration because, we gradually learn, she’s been fired from the corporation where Jack is now stuck at the top. Supporting her through an abyss of insanity is Michelle, a big sister figure who’s been there, done that, including the twelve steps of AA.
When Jack arrives, as he must, to comfort Jillian, something of tenderness passes between them, though now it’s Jack who’d rather stay single. As the story ends, we have an eerie feeling similar to Sartre’s No Exit, though with velvet gloves.
The cast’s devotion to the material in this premiere production is much to be admired. It’s not an easy script, and there’s a volume of clever verbiage to string together with just the right subtlety to deliver the barb with the tickle of a feather rather than the jab of a needle. This cast has met that critical marker, a credit to them and to the author who created the rich text.
Nick Ventura as Jack, the successful alpha male, makes clear the mix of confusion and longing underlying his character’s bullying surface, as his unfulfilled fantasies drive him to the brink of a major freak-out.
Barry, his drinking buddy, played (with some understatement, I thought) by Brian Cebrian, is quite credible as Jack’s link to a fading adolescence but could have been given more from the script to justify his loyalty to Jack.
Jillian is the most interesting of all the characters, as played by a fiery Anna Sosa. Her ambitious self, on display in Scene One, is as haughty and school-principaled as any pure bitch can be.
But in Scene Two Sosa is let loose to chew up the set, reaching a crescendo when her girl friend Michelle, played by Melanie Hudnall with just the right touch of sympathetic irony, guides her on a nightmarish trip through her personal underworld.
Director Jason Martens deserves considerable credit for calling these performances out of the actors. What the play needs and deserves now is some time and space to grow in order to perfect the rhythms and the nuances the actors have discovered in the script and to investigate possible revisions. (Two weekends is hardly enough, but in our culture of the neglected arts it’s a generous token.)
Structurally, I found Scene One the least satisfying. I wanted more clarity in the relationship between Barry and Jack, and the heated back-and-forth between Jack and Jillian about practical reality vs. self-indulgent fantasy begins to echo itself in a repeating loop.
Scene Two, on the other hand, has more vitality. The relationship between Michelle and Jillian is clearer and deeper, the dilemma more keenly felt. Having lost a job myself as a paid reviewer now turned to a blogger writing reviews for free, I recognized the reality of Jillian’s position and the manic-depressive cycling through her dark night of the soul. This for me is the strongest part of the play, conveying significant dramatic truth within its absurdist framework.
So which is better—to succeed like Jack or fail like Jill in the bloodless corporate world?
In the end, playwright Dillard doesn’t answer that question. It’s probably best she didn’t try. In the hollow lives of Jack and Jillian there is no better or worse. It’s all insane.
That seems to be the final word in this romp through the corporate culture where the pain is real, even if all the rest is absurd and delusional.
Jack and Jillian continues at the Generic tonight, July 9, at 8; Sunday, July 10, at 2:30; and next weekend, Thursday-Saturday, July 14-16, at 8 and Sunday, July 17, at 2:30. Thursday tickets are $7, all other performances are $10. For reservations call 757-441-2160. The Generic Theater is located in the underground of Chrysler Hall at Brambleton Ave. and St. Paul’s Blvd.
Meanwhile, Norfolk’s Summer New Play Fest continues next weekend with two staged readings of new plays at Little Theater of Norfolk. Love Songs for the Road by P.A. Wray will be read July 15 and Refraction of Light by Jean Klein on July 16. Show times for both is 8 p.m. with audience talk-backs to follow.