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Audience Response To Jacob's House

Monday, May 3, 2010 Leave a Comment

So for The Lesser Seductions of History, we had an audience feedback thread that was one of the highlights of the process. The nearly 20 comments left gave me great insight in how the play was being received, particularly with the fraught character of ONE.

I'd love to try this again for Jacob's House, so please, if you saw the play, let us know what you thought in the comment field below.

A few rules of the game: this is a safe space, so while criticism is welcome, snark and hostility are not. A good rule of thumb is simply to keep to things you'd feel comfortable saying face to face. While you can choose to post as anonymous, we encourage you to take ownership of your thoughts.

Thank you, and see you at the theatre!

7 comments »

  • marta said:  

    First feedback nit: This time I had a harder time finding my way to this section for Audience Comment than for Lesser Seductions! This was a thread-the-needle experience but I'm here at last. Or maybe I just got dazzled and distracted along the pathway by the bloggers, reviewers and reveals, which were very enjoyable to read.

    But now that I've found my way into this attic...I want to discuss Jacob's House from the POV of someone very familiar -- even steeped, like tea -- in the original text from Genesis.

    I'm glad to read, as I wondered about it while attending the play opening weekend, that it works for someone unfamiliar with the Bible as literature. And belief is certainly no prerequisite to "getting" or enjoying the play. The primal power of these ancient family stories give them universal appeal to reach out and grab! Gus tapped into much of the original gritty family personalities of Genesis. In their original form they come down to us as flawed individual personalities, not saints. And yet -- they became the vaunted patriarchs and matriarchs of a lasting people. How is that?

    In part, it's valuable to reflect on that as purposeful. The leaders of a nation, the hallowed ancestors, are riddled with human flaws, and yet they inspire.

    I think a missing feature in the current play Jacob's House is the flipside: the merits of the characters, on a moral level. I think finding that missing aspect might even improve the play's scope and richness.

    As I was taught Jacob, he grew and changed radically during the course of his lifetime, so much so that midlife he's given a new name (Israel) to replace Jacob, following one of his allnighters wrastling with the angel. You really have to wonder how he became worthy of the 3,000 year+ inheritance (land and blessing) if all he was was a trickster and taker.

    He grows in part by getting return justice, for example, the trickster is tricked with the wrong bride. But he learns from it, and (in the classic text anyway) requires Laban to give him the desired daughter before he works off another 7 years for daughter #2.

    Jacob's ways of domesticity (cooking) and scholarship (in the classic commentaries, anyway) compare to his hunter brother Esau. Classic commentaries have Rebecca as carrying out the proper switch. Jacob was always meant to be the patriarch to future generations, rather than Esau, because he had the quality of reflection and ability to learn/grow from life's experiences. He has an "arc" in other words. That was foreseen; Rebecca corrected things by getting the blessing given to Jacob at Isaac's deathbed. There's even commentary that Isaac himself knew it, based on the way he presents his words to the hairy-gloved Jacob!

    So Jacob became patriarch of a lasting people, not because he was a "taker" but because he outgrew many (not all) of his youthful character flaws through the power of reflection and the curves life throws. He had the capacity -- and evidence of it as a young man -- to struggle, reflect, change, deepen and grow. d learn from his life experiences. If that dimension could infuse this play I think it would be deeper. Otherwise it's too much akin to No Country for Old Men. Jacob was about much more than land-grab and manifest destiny, although he also ended up with mucho land and mucho destiny.

    What I miss in Schulenberg's play is that arc of change in Jacob, that demonstrates on a moral level that he was meant to be a leader for his merits, not just his early selfishness as a youth. One of the playgoers the first weekend offered consultation on these and other classic interpretations, in case the playwright wishes to head in that direction with this play. It's a resource offered. (end of part one)

  • marta said:  

    (Part Two/ Spoiler Alert)
    Comments on the production (I saw opening weekend Sat night & Sun night from each side, and felt the actors played to both sides of the room. On Sun night, where I saw what happened to the gem, I had a different insight than sitting where I couldn't see that deception. Both nights worked for me, but differently because of that.

    The production elements were so good, especially: set, costumes, lighting. Sound was very crisp!

    On Sat night, I had to ask my friends at 3 a.m. to GO TO BED already, since everyone wanted to keep talking Jacob's House themes all night til dawn.

    Particulars:

    The invisible seesaw between the Messenger (Isaiah Tanenbaum) and Jacob (Matthew Archimbault) was for me a perfect balance all evening. I kept getting surprised. It felt like watching sumo wrestling where both mind and body are visible.

    Matt amused me with his cool-guy interpretation of Jacob! He gets away with so many outrageous choices against his own family. So breezy and nonchalant; the center of the center of gravity...until. Until along comes the Messenger ("angel"), Isaiah, who takes stage away from stage but leaves it intact because he still needs to deal with/mess with Jacob's mind and body. It is to shiver. What a dance between these two men!

    Isaiah's quick-action comedic timing and physical moves, contrasted with Matt's laconic "who, me?" movie-star look, gave the play a blessed humor, IMO. Each man found his match, and like hands climbing up the baseball bat, each tried to outdo the other as often as possible. Loved it.

    (I don't know every actor's name while typing into this screen, so please forgive me that. I'll use character names instead.)

    To me, Leah and Rachel felt truly like sisters (competitive, reality-checking, challenging, loving, closer than close). But I was never confused which was which, so I commend both actors for never leaving me confused.

    Tamar (mature version) had clarity, charisma and presence; Tamar (youthful) was simply adorable, not sure how else to say that one :)

    Dinah's alto voice, with its depth and gravitas, counter-balanced and grounded all the other women (as a group) quite well. My ears appreciated that, as too many sopranos in one play can blur.

    Speaking of voice, Laban (Bianca in male form) could have moved earth with her monologue that tracks from slavery to the stolen gods. OMG! Then Bianca (in female form) is truly disconcerting as she oozes sympathy for Jacob after he complied with her deceptions.

    Joey (Zack Calhoun) handled the role just fine, I just didn't care for the character as written (sorry). I might have done better if I'd known during the play what he did that occupied him away from the family for years. He was just "away" -- but was he away for good purpose? a teacher? a partyboy? I couldn't tell. I simply needed more markers to understand him, unless I missed a key line somewhere. His joy in being on the stage was evident, so that got me through even when I didn't get his character.

    Esau was amazing in his intense physicality. He had command of props (the rifle), lines (demanding the dinner, for example), and stage where he seemed to become 3x himself in size, whenever needed. Whatis that, an Alice pill, to make a body expand and contract like that?

    I hope I mentioned every actor. In Part 3, I'll tell you one more thing from the heart.

  • marta said:  

    Part Three

    In the past year, I spent many months with a dear relative who was dying at home, nearing a ripe old age of 89. Actually she was a family matriarch. Her children, as in this play, were as involved throughout her final months as they were glued to her throughout her lifetime. She even has an attic that felt exactly like Jason Paradine's version, right down to the hats and books.

    As in Jacob's House, my relatives came and went, trying to come to terms, figure out belongings, untangle stories and above all deal with her leaving us.

    In the final scene of Jacob's House, when every power of the elderly man is stripped away -- I want to tell you that is exactly how it felt with her. You just want to hold onto the person you've known and loved -- flaws and all. But you know you just can't, because we're just human.

    Sometimes she'd go away as I sat next to her. I could never see who she was bargaining with, but there were actual conversations to be sure. I could hear only one side, like listening in the room to another person's half of a phone call. Tamar's touching distress seeing the loss of one power after the other in Jacob was something that carried a lot of truth.

    At the end of someone's long life, there can be leaders, heirs, and witnesses. Some are helpful, some prideful. Some feel helpless when in fact they're just modest; they actually are helping.

    Then finally comes the moment when each descendant realizes, in his/her own time, that the deal has been cut and there's no more bargaining left.

    It felt like the definition of human sadness. There's dread and inevitability until the last hour.

    Jacob's House captured all that. So thank you, Gus, for imagining and thank you, director/cast/and crew for bringing something so difficult to the stage.

  • Pip said:  

    I think American Jacob is more of a bad ass than biblical Jacob. Congrats on a pretty great, and thought provoking review which was initially provoked by your thoughts. Huzah.

  • Matt A said:  

    MARTA!!

    Your (3-part installment) review is AMAZING! So, so insightful...I'm right with you.

    Yes, it would be amazing to see Jacob's merits (and FUN!! to play). Alas, that wish might be as foolhardy as wishing that we could see MacDuff being silly with his child...it'd be fun, but would it really help the playwright?

    Your thoughts on the cast are amazing. I wish I knew more about you...I'd include your thoughts about me on my website? Wanna start a theatre blog?

    That's a very keen observation, your 'what was Joe DOING while away.' Yes, it'd help to know. But I hope you're not proposing the character didn't have an essential part to play for the 'Amigos.' (that was our cast nickname for Dinah, Tamar, and Joe)

    And...thank you so much for sharing your personal story with the blog. I remember one-sided conversations with my pepere, at age 11. He was suffering from Alzheimer's, and it was very, very difficult for me.

    What your story evoked for me, in terms of the play, was the image of Jacob bargaining with NOBODY during the chess scene. His mind only goes near the end...but there's something powerful about the thought that he simply gave up his faculties with the understanding that it would give him more time. That is, perhaps, a romantic rambling...but a nice one :)

    And yes, in the future, it'd be great if the Feedback Post was 'sticky.' That means the post stays at the top of the blog. I'd LOVE to read more feedback on this!!

    Anyway, thanks for your thoughts, Marta. I wasn't planning on commenting on this post at all, but your thoughts were inspiring at this particular moment!

    More thoughts! More thoughts! Anyone else have some thoughts??

  • marta said:  

    The play Jacob's House was astonishing, with raw greatness.

    And I should have begun my long response that way. May I have a second chance here?

    Said simply: it's exquisite.

    (Full disclosure: I thought Lesser Seductions was the best play I'd seen in years, until I saw THIS one. So now they're fighting like twins-in-a-womb for first place, in my mind at least, of plays seen this year).

    I also feel Jacob's House has the raw power to go forward for a very wide audience.

    I think my reaction about the play typifies nobody except me, and I'm not a typical audience member. First off, I'm pretty old. As well, I'm involved academically with Biblical commentary 24/7, so that's a lot of baggage to carry up 4 flights! So I had thought about and studied "Tamar" "Laban" "Dinah" and "Jo(s)eph -- no y" for decades. That's far from typical, right?

    And that's exactly why I relished seeing these familiar (literally, like "family" to me) folks re-set by Gus in the American West.

    I'm humblified! I realize now that most audience know their American history, or family dynamics, as their initial jumping-off point as the play opens. It functions on all those levels. From the Dakota wheatfields to the bottoms of the coal mines, the American landscape also shaped its inhabitants.

    Fact is, although I'm plagued with Biblical Tales dancing in my head constantly, I had a much better time seeing my old "friends" Joe, Jacob, Rebecca, Leah and all the others in the American West, than I would have watching (for the 900th time..) a cowboy saga of how Clint Eastwood or John Wayne handled America's dusty legacy.

    Yes, Jacob's House is something entirely new. It asked me to put together two worlds -- the Bible and American vision -- and draw new understandings.

    And that's why I think the play has raw possibility to be for a very wide audience someday.

  • marta said:  

    And, I just can't stop thinking about this play. I made a major netiquette error in writing so long.
    It just grabbed me and won't let go.

    To Others: What did YOU like about JACOB"S HOUSE?