In the opening scene of Bob Glaudini’s Jack Goes Boating, the title character, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, sits on a sofa in a New York apartment. Accessorised like Elmer Fudd (knit hunting cap, fraying scarf), Jack grunts answers to questions from his friend, Clyde. Both men drive limousines. Clyde lives with Lucy, who is trying to set up Jack on a date with Connie. The women work at a company that sells funeral-related services.
Clyde teaches Jack to swim; Connie is assaulted; Jack visits Connie in hospital. This, I asked myself, is how Hoffman wants to return to the stage after his Oscar for Capote?
Cut to: Jack back on the sofa, the perch from which he tokes on joints and insists that his friends listen to a snatch of reggae. Clyde says he has arranged for Jack to have a cooking lesson from an assistant to a pastry chef (Jack has promised to make dinner for Connie, and to take her boating). Clyde confesses that the assistant and Lucy had an affair.
Though on the surface the scene, like the rest of this shaggy-dog comedy, isn’t much in verbal terms, it furnishes the actors with plentiful moments for quiet showing off. Despite Jack’s monosyllabic charm, were I a referee I would, at this point, have had to award the bout to John Ortiz, the production’s Clyde. With terrific skill, Ortiz, under Peter DuBois’ direction, plays the scene as a generous expression of friendship, while conveying a subtext of impending betrayal.
But Hoffman is not about to allow Ortiz – his co-Artistic Director in the LAByrinth Theatre Company, which has put together the evening – to best him. In Act II,
Hoffman becomes more demonstrative: his gestures acquire sly detail.
Despite its shaky start, Jack Goes Boating becomes an absolutely wonderful story of how two lonely, unglamourous souls grope their way towards connection, which turns out to be quite a bit more interesting than the conventional pretty-people scenarios that are our usual lot as theatregoers.
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