Sept. 22 2010 10:21 AM

Wobbly story undermines great ensemble work in Ion's Jack Goes Boating

theater
Jack (Brian Mackey) feeds one of his many habits
Jack drives big, shiny limos for a living, and he probably does it really well, but his mindset is the equivalent of a '76 Ford Pinto with dirty plugs. He's scared of the water to the point of throwing up, probably can't hardboil an egg without scorching the pan, wears his carrottop hair out to here and thinks “Yo!” as a form of address is pretty gosh-dafunny. As written in Ion Theatre Company's Jack Goes Boating, those qualities endear him to us against the story's volatile backdrop. While friends Clyde and Lucy are busy fixing Jack up with their sweet, vulnerable buddy Connie, they struggle with some thorny marital problems of their own.

And as played by Brian Mackey, Jack is a superior illustration of working-class New York City life and its present-day struggles. In fact, all the acting here is a cut above. Rhianna Basore is terrific at understating Connie, fresh off a vicious assault on the subway; Steven Lone's Clyde is single-minded and full of retorts; and as quick-tempered Lucy, Sara Beth Morgan is as good as I've ever seen her (director Claudio Raygoza is behind all this excellence).

But that's where the piece's strengths start and stop.

Playwright Bob Glaudini never ties up the loose ends to his story, and this cast thus has too little room to show itself as the great ensemble it's become.

You'll find an exceptional heart underneath the rubble that is Jack, fueled by the vibe he gets from a reggae tape. The music is his lifeblood, and he proudly hips the other three to its healing power. From there, he screws up the courage to ask Connie over for a meal he's cooked for the foursome; meantime, in some charming scenes, Clyde teaches Jack to swim, and Jack vows to take Connie on a boat ride in the spring, which is sometime down the road.

But a volcanic flap between Clyde and Lucy spoils the meal and triggers one of Jack's panic attacks—that's when it hits us that this crescendo is based on insufficient information. Connie's and Lucy's clerical jobs at a funeral home; Clyde's and Jack's workaday survival as schlubs in the limousine business; Jack's attachment to reggae as a positive force; the reasons behind Connie's attraction to Jack and Jack's timidity around women: These and other traits are barely addressed, or not at all; it's thus tough to figure out what each character sees in the other in order to complete the story cycle. Jack's psyche survives, and you're glad for him and Connie, but not because you know them intimately. I recommend this one, but not with my usual legendary enthusiasm.

This review is based on the opening-day matinée of Sept. 17. Jack Goes Boating runs through Oct. 9 at BLK BOX @ 6th & Penn in Hillcrest. $10-$25. iontheatre.com. Write to marty@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.

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