REVIEW: Jacob and Jack (Victory Gardens)

Fun and witty, with a shmeer of the absurd


Victory Gardens presents
Jacob and Jack
Written by James Sherman
Directed by
Dennis Zacek
Biograph Theatre, 2433 N. Lincoln (map)
thru June 20th  |  tickets: $20-$48   |  more info

reviewed by Katy Walsh 

Jacob-and-Jack06‘You must be a good actor. You’re not good-looking enough to make it in L.A. unless you were a good actor.’ Victory Gardens presents the world premiere of Jacob and Jack.  A successful commercial actor returns to Chicago for a Yiddish theatre tribute to his grandfather. Thinking it’s only a staged reading for his mother’s ladies club, Jack has not rehearsed. Complications arise as he pisses off his wife, flirts with the  ingénue and the theatre sells out.  In a parallel dimension set in 1935, Jacob is preparing for his theatrical moment.  Complications arise as he pisses off his wife, flirts with the ingénue and the theatre does not sell out. Seventy-five years apart, Jacob and Jack are challenged with a stage actor’s pay, ego and libido. Jacob and Jack is a comedy transcending time. The humor is beautifully showcased in the similarities and differences between past and present theatre. It’s witty with a shmeer of the absurd.

The stage at Victory Gardens has been transformed into three connecting dressing rooms. Mary Griswold (Scenic Designer) has created a backstage peek at the actors’ preparation quarters. They are sparse and dingy and sadly imaginable as exactly the same in 1935 or 2010. Griswold also gives flashes of theatre excitement with partial views of the recognizable marquees for Chicago, Palace and Merle Reskin hovering over the non-glamorous backstage onstage. There are five doors that are used to transition the scene from past to present. Since three of the actors change character but not costume, the doors help the conversion. Director Dennis Zacek uses the opening and shutting doors to add a slapstick element to the amusing chaos.

Photo by Liz Lauren Photo by Liz Lauren
Jacob-and-Jack01   Photo by Liz Lauren

Zacek assembled six phenomenal actors to play twelve different parts. The actor’s duality is recognized in physical and vocal distinctions. In the title role, Craig Spidle (Jack/Jacob) plays up the schmuck as Jack and chutzpah as Jacob. ‘I work in television so I don’t have to rehearse,’ versus ‘I am upstage and you are down, down downstage.’ Either role, he is hilarious, whether cowering under the table or beating his breast in arrogance. His wife in both worlds, Janet Ulrich Brooks (Lisa/Leah) reacts to the philandering with sarcastic jabs of vulnerable disgust as Lisa and solid resignation as Leah. Her funniest moments are perfectly timed bursts of surprising reaction. Laura Scheinbaum (Robin/Rachel) is delightful as both the contemporary confident MFA actor and the anxious deli discovery destined for the stage. Roslyn Alexander (Esther/Hannah) charms as the no-nonsense mother of Jack and the suspicious, protective mother of Rachel. When she breaks out into song, she is everybody’s bubeleh. With the broadest ranges between Jewish immigrant and American stereotype, Daniel Cantor (Ted/Abe) and Andrew Keltz (Don/Moishe) deliver rich versions of both their roles.

Oy, a mecheieh, chochemas! Playwright James Sherman and Director Dennis Zacek have devised a comedic shtick with hilarious results. Sherman has delivered a farce honoring not only the Yiddish theatre but also highlighting the struggles of contemporary theatre. It’s a wonderful reminder that an actor struggles to deliver his ‘gift to you!’ Mazel tov! May you enjoy success from your kishkes! Ahf mir gezogt!

Rating: ★★★

Photo by Liz Lauren


The Cast

Roslyn Alexander* (Esther/Hannah)
Janet Ulrich Brooks* (Lisa/Leah)
Daniel Cantor* (Ted/Abe)
Andrew Keltz* (Don/Moishe)
Laura Scheinbaum* (Robin/Rachel)
Craig Spidle* (Jack/Jacob)

*Actors’ Equity member, the union of professional actors and stage managers

Creative Team Biographies (from VG webpage)

JAMES SHERMAN (Playwright) is the author of Magic Time, The God of Isaac, Mr. 80%, The Escape Artist, Beau Jest, This Old Man Came Rolling Home, Jest A Second!, Romance in D, From Door to Door, The Old Man’s Friend, Affluenza!, Half and Half, and Relatively Close. All of the plays except Magic Time premiered at Victory Gardens under the direction of Dennis Zacek.  Jacob and Jack is the 13th play that James has premiered at Victory Gardens since his first collaboration with Dennis Zacek in 1985. Ten of the plays have been published and they have been produced all across the United States and in many countries around the world. In 2006, Sherman directed the movie of Beau Jest starring Lainie Kazan, Seymour Cassel, and Robyn Cohen. The movie was screened at film festivals in the U.S. in Miami; San Diego; Palm Beach; Washington, D.C.; Charlotte; Houston; Salt Lake City; Detroit; Honolulu; and Fairfax. The movie was also screened at international festivals in Vancouver, Tel Aviv, and Dusseldorf. Sherman currently teaches at Columbia College and DePaul University. He has been the recipient of fellowships from The MacDowell Colony, the Ragdale Foundation, The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and Yaddo. Jacob and Jack, won this year’s Festival of New Jewish Plays in La Jolla, CA. marking the fourth time that Sherman has won this award.

DENNIS ZACEK (Director, Artistic Director) has held the position of artistic director for 30 years, and recently accepted the Actor’s Equity Association’s (AEA) Spirit Recognition Award. The Spirit Award is given to institutions that “have made non-traditional casting a way of life.” He also received the 2005 Jeff Award for Outstanding Achievement in Chicago Equity Theatre. He, his wife Marcelle McVay, and the theater are co-recipients of the 2001 Tony Award® for Outstanding Regional Theatre. He is also the recipient of the 2004 Artistic Leadership Award from the League of Chicago Theatres. Mr. Zacek and Ms. McVay received the 1999 Rosetta Lenoire Award from Actors’ Equity and the 1998 Sidney R. Yates Arts Advocacy Award from the Illinois Arts Alliance Foundation. He has directed more than 250 productions in his career, including, most recently, the Chicago premiere of Blackbird by David Harrower, the world premiere of Jeffrey Sweet’s Class Dismissed, James Sherman’sRelatively Close, the Midwest premiere of A Park in Our House by Nilo Cruz, the world premieres of Cynical Weathers by Douglas Post, Denmark by Charles Smith, the inaugural production at Victory Gardens’ new home at the Biograph, Symmetryby David Field, The Family Gold by Annie Reiner, Affluenza! and The Old Man’s Friend by James Sherman, Unspoken Prayersby Claudia Allen, The Action Against Sol Schumann and Flyovers by Jeffrey Sweet, and others. Additional projects include Marisha Chamberlain’s Scheherazade (National Winner of the FDG/CBS competition), John Olive’s Clara’s Play (production and direction award, Academy of Theater Artists and Friends), and James Sherman’s Mr. 80% (direction award, Academy of Theater Artists and Friends). Mr. Zacek directed Arthur Cantor’s production of James Sherman’s Beau Jest at the Lambs Theater in New York, where it holds the record as the longest-running show in the history of the theater. Other New York credits include Lonnie Carter’s The Sovereign State of Boogedy Boogedy, presented by Woody King’s New Federal Theater, and Charles Smith’s Jelly Belly, which was produced by the New Federal Theater. Mr. Zacek is a professor emeritus of Loyola University and was included in 2005 in Utne magazine’s first-ever list of “Artists Who Will Shake the World.”

MARY GRISWOLD (Scenic Design) has previously designed three James Sherman plays for Victory Gardens, Half and Half,The Old Man’s Friend and her favorite, Affluenza!. A recent Chicago credit has been Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a Musical with Chamber Opera Chicago. She is proud to have served as a national and regional officer of United Scenic Artists, Local 829. Please visit her website

CAROL J. BLANCHARD (Costume Design) is thrilled to be returning to Victory Gardens Theater, where her work was seen inLove Person, Four Places, Hanging Fire and I Sailed with Magellan. She has designed for companies such as Cleveland Symphony’s Blossom Opera’s Falstaff, Skylight Opera’s La Traviata, La Boheme, The Barber of Seville, and The Marriage of Figaro, New York’s Hillman Opera’s Hansel and Gretel, Shakespeare in the Park’s Much Ado About Nothing, and A Winter’s Tale, First Stage Childrens’ Theatre’s Seussical and, The Sleeping Beauty, Karamu Theatre’s Devil Mas and Hamlet Jones, and the Champlain Shakespeare Festival’s Love’s Labours Lost and The Importance of Being Earnest. Her Chicago credits include Goodman Theatre/Silk Road Theatre’s Yohen, Drury Lane’s Barefoot in the Park and Of Thee I Sing, Porchlight Music Theatre’s Sweeney Todd, Pacific Overtures and Once on This Island, Appletree Theatre’s Wings and Match, PTAP’s 7 Doorsand Einstein’s Dreams and The Silk Road Theatre Project’s Caravaggio, Merchant On Venice and Pangs of the Messiah. She has been honored with a Joseph Jefferson Award for Costume Design and an After Dark Award for her collaboration in the Silk Road Theatre’s Golden Child. She is a Professor Emeritus of Design at The State University of New York.

JESSE KLUG (Lighting Design) Victory Gardens credits include: The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, Blackbird, Big Blue Nail, Hortensia and the Museum of Dreams. National Tour of The Screwtape Letters. Off Broadway: The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity at 2nd Stage, The Screwtape Letters at Westside Theatre, Romulus at Guggenheim Museum, The Hourglass at NYMTF. Regional: Mark’s Gospel (FPA), Ragtime, Cabaret, Miss Saigon (Jeff Nomination), Sweet Charity (Jeff Nomination) at Drury Lane, Fiddler on the Roof, 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Nunsense at Marriott Lincolnshire, Aladdin, Mid Summer Nights Dream, How can you Run with a Shell on your Back at Chicago Shakespeare, Yeast Nation, Distracted,Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Jeff Award) at American Theatre Company, Oh Coward at Writers Theatre, Our Lady of the Underpass, Eliot a Solder’s Fugue, Blind Mouth Singing with Teatro Vista, Forever Plaid, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum with Noble Fool, High Fidelity, K of D, On an Average Day with Route 66, Three Sisters with Strawdog (After Dark Award), Driving Miss Daisy, Voice of Good Hope with Boars Head Theatre, Respect at Cuillo Center, Chicago Tap Theatre with Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble. Resident Lighting Designer for Drury Lane Oakbrook, Route 66, and Chicago Tap

SCOTT MILLER (Sound Design) selected design credits include The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, Three Tall Women, Mountain,Criminal Hearts, The Gin Game, The Winning Streak, as resident Sound Designer for Apple Tree Theater. He was also the Resident Sound Designer for the Theater for Young Audiences program at Apple Tree Theater and the credits include The Cay, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, Will The Circle Be Unbroken, The Number Of The Stars, The Outsiders, Let The Circle Be Unbroken, The Devils Arithmetic, And They Came For Me. Scott has also held the position of resident sound designer for Lake Forest College where his design credits include The Unseen Hand, On The Verge, Rocky Horror Show, The Plough and the Stars. Other Credits include Arcadia at Loyola University’s Mullady Theater, The Lonesome West and Falsettoland at Niles North High School.

GRANT SABIN (Prop Designer) primarily works as a set designer in Chicago, but also acts as the charge scenic artist at Pegasus Players Theatre. He has had the great opportunity to teach scenic painting for Northwestern University’s Cherubs Program. He’s a company member and resident set designer for Dog and Pony Theatre designing their past productions ofGod’s Ear, Ape, Mr. Marmalade (Jeff Award Nominee), Dead City, Osama the Hero, and Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake). He’s a graduate of Columbia College with a BFA in theatre design where he was awarded the 2005 Michael Merritt scholarship for collaboration in theatre design. Recent set design credits include: Sweet Tea, About Face; Garage Rep,Steppenwolf; It’s A Wonderful Life, American Blues Theatre; Lucinda’s Bed, Chicago Dramatists; Assistant Set Design for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Chicago Shakespeare; Whiff of Anarchy, The Seldoms; The U.N. Inspector, Next Theatre;Forbidden Broadway, Royal George; Dashiell Hamlet, Hound of the Baskervilles, The Juniper Tree, City Lit; Augusta, ATC; A Prayer for My Daughter, The 4 –H Club & Cowboy Mouth, Mary Arrchie; Crossing California, Lifeline Theatre; Faster, Thief River, The Side Project; Blasted, The Sea Horse (Jeff Award Nominee), A Red Orchid Theatre; Leaving Iowa, Royal George Theatre and The Overture Center, WI; and The Gift, Chicago Ballet.

JEFF MCLAREN (Assistant Director) is currently a marketing associate at Victory Gardens and is thrilled to join Dennis forJacob and Jack. He is a company member of Wishbone Theatre Collective. Recent directing credits include the original playSpandex in association with DCA Theater’s INCUBATOR Series, Eric Levitz’s Without Parachutes at the Kennedy Center, and Neena Beber’s Italian Sojourn which he assistant directed with Wendy Goldberg at the O’Neill Playwrights Conference. Acting credits include a principal role in the original play The Decameron Project, performed in Edinburgh, Scotland at the Fringe Festival. Jeff earned a BA in Performing Arts from Clemson University.

REBECCA GREEN (Production Stage Manager) returns to Victory Gardens where her credits include Love Person and Jest a Second. Chicago credits also include assistant stage manager for Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, Short Shakespeare! The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, As You Like It, Troilus and Cressida, The Winter’s Tale, Measure for Measure, and production stage manager for The Wizard of Oz, Shakespeare’s R & J, and Pericles at Chicago Shakespeare Theater; Menopause the Musical at Apollo Theatre; The Guys at Lakeshore Theatre; Over the Tavern at Mercury Theatre; the Ovations! Concert Series at Auditorium Theater; How I Learned to Drive, Master Class, and Cowgirls at Northlight Theatre; Warp!, E.R./Emergency Room, and Bleacher Bums at Stuart Gordon’s Organic Theatre; Love Letters, Other People’s Money, and I Hate Hamlet at Royal George Theatre. New York credits include: Eric Bogosian’s Drinking In America,A Girl’s Guide to Chaos, and Abingdon Square at American Place Theatre. Love you Ruby, Stanley, Susan and Lee.

Three Words: The shiksa to my right, Maureen describes the show with, “Laugh out loud!”


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