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Jack Was Kind

Theatre Review by Marc Miller - November 17, 2022

Tracy Thorne
Photo by Carol Rosegg
So in 1983 there was this little George Furth comedy on Broadway, The Supporting Cast, which didn't run long, but I enjoyed it immensely. The cast may have had a lot to do with that. I mean, check it out: Hope Lange, Sandy Dennis, Betty Garrett, Jack Gilford, and Joyce Van Patten. But it also had a compelling subject: What happens to the friends and relatives closest to famous people, how they affect their more iconic loved ones' lives and vice versa. I bring it up because that's more or less the theme of Tracy Thorne's solo show at Irish Repertory Theatre, Jack Was Kind, which she wrote. Thorne builds her story slowly, maybe too slowly, and even at 80 minutes, Jack Was Kind feels extended. It does have an effective climax; other than that, let's say it's no The Supporting Cast.

Not much to see here, folks: David Esler's set is a little round traditional table and two chairs, with a rear projection of sky and leaves, which keep fading out of focus, disappearing, and returning–why? Mary, though we don't find out until the very last moment that that's her name, is recording a monologue on her phone, which she's set up on a tripod, and the mechanics baffle her. Media-savvy she isn't, and Thorne's delivery, with stops and starts and stutters, aptly carries the insecurity of one who isn't accustomed to being the center of attention. As directed by Nicholas A. Cotz, she barely moves. She'll pour a glass of water, she'll fidget with her hands, but Jack Was Kind could be a radio play, and its impact wouldn't be much diminished.

The details of Mary's life dribble out slowly. We get that she's a mom, with a mouthy college-age daughter who challenges her at every turn, and a more placid younger son, who seems to be a normal kid, though we hear less about him. Her husband Jack is a lawyer and a celebrity. Everybody knows him, and Mary has nothing but nice things to say about him: He's handsome. He's romantic. He has a way of listening, a "listening face," that makes whoever's speaking feel special. He's a good Catholic. And how he loves her. "Jack needs to make me happy, his face goes shiny when he does, I have no idea why, but making me happy is everything for Jack," Mary relates. "And that sounds like a dream, doesn't it?"

That life with Jack is not quite the idyll Mary presents at first, well, we start to suspect that fairly early on; if it were, there'd be no play. But it's a long journey to the payoff. Her daughter, she informs us, keeps telling her, "Mom, you're the problem," and that doesn't wash at all; it's late-teenage spite for a parent, and it's unclear why Thorne bothered to put it in. There's an early hint that something unsavory happened with Jack some years ago, but we have to sit through a smorgasbord of wifely memories and observations about that "listening face" before we find out what it is. There are also some daddy issues (Mary's dad is a polished, illustrious gent, but a terrible father), a list of the 30 presents Jack gave her on her 30th birthday, one example of Jack having a temper, some possible incest in her family, and I forget what else.

And then, finally, the revelation. It turns out that Jack has a history very much like that of a real-life famous person not named Jack, who was very much in the news and on TV a lot a couple of years ago, and continues to be an influential, much-loved, much-hated presence. That's all you'll get out of me. The reveal is painful for Mary, and you can understand how it unhinged her, how it complicated her parenting, why the memory of it suddenly has her screaming. There's drama here, and the stage heats up. Suddenly, Jack Was Kind is about something, the conflicts of all those supporting casts of notables in the news. How do they reconcile their allegiance to their loved ones with the knowledge that some of the behaviors they're supporting don't merit it? Does Melania go through this? Did Mrs. Putin, before the divorce?

To get to those probing questions, though, you have to wade through the sometimes inarticulate, sometimes irrelevant ramblings of a character who, by her own admission, is less than camera ready. Mary wanders up a lot of byways, and we understand why: She's trying to avoid getting to the unpleasant point. But that's not a recipe for nonstop intrigue, and once you figure out who we're really talking about, Mary's observations about him don't carry a lot of weight. Jack was kind? Jack, truth to tell, was also something of a bore.

Jack Was Kind
Through December 18, 2022
Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd Street, New York NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: