Chicago Theatre Review
Jacob – Provisions Theatre
In the finale of Provision’s 10th season, Artistic Director Timothy Gregory displays his versatility by wearing three hats. As playwright, he’s taken a vaguely familiar story from the Old Testament and given it a sharp, modern, supernatural twist. As director, sharing the task with company member Lia Mortensen, he’s staged this moving, very physically demanding play (tapping into his expertise as a fight choreographer with assistance from Laurie McNeilly) into an often exciting piece of theatre that offers a timely message for today. And as an actor, Mr. Gregory assumes the challenging role of the Repairman (although, the night I reviewed this production Mark Lancaster, Gregory’s very competent understudy, stepped into the role). This talented artist is truly a one-man show.
John Mossman plays Jacob Isaacson, a contemporary, self-centered Jewish businessman who fears his twin brother Eli’s antagonistic return to Chicago. Their dying father intended for his favorite son, the less-successful Eli, to inherit his property, but through jealousy and greed Jacob has slyly manipulated the legacy in his own favor. A lifelong rivalry between the two brothers becomes threatening when, as their father lies near death in the hospital on the night of his grandson Josh’s bar mitzvah, Jacob suspects that Eli may have returned seeking revenge for what was taken from him. Just as in the Bible story, Jacob ushers his family and friends to safety while awaiting his brother’s arrival, only to find himself embroiled in a wrestling match with someone who just might be an angel.
The excellence of the cast outshines the moralizing predictability of this new play, although audiences searching for contemporary religious lessons in their entertainment won’t be disappointed. Mossman is very good as the conniving, deceitful Jacob who learns a valuable life lesson from a mysterious stranger. That both he and Lancaster are competent at stage combat, which dominates the second act of the play, is a plus. Mossman’s smooth characterization and naturalness with dialogue helps carry the play. Although his come-to-God moment near the end is somewhat heavy-handed, Mossman delivers his confession with humble dignity. He’s matched by stage veteran Renee Matthews as Becky, the Isaacson matriarch, whose dynamic portrayal of Jacob’s opinionated and devoted mother, given to uncensored pronouncements and politically incorrect responses, provides much of the play’s humor. An opportunity to enjoy the vivacious Ms. Matthews delivering these barbed wisecracks is worth the price of admission.
Co-director Lia Mortensen is strong and eloquent in the grounded, but thankless role of Rachel, Jacob’s wife. Making the best of her husband’s obsessive, bullheaded nature, Ms. Mortensen is the levelheaded member of the family. Johnny Rabe is terrific as Josh, Jacob’s son who crosses the threshold to manhood in more ways than one, ultimately learning the importance of truth, honor and forgiveness from his father. Rod Armentrout is competent and funny as Mike, Jacob’s Irish-American friend and lawyer. Chuck Spencer brings a cool head and folksy wisdom to Rabbi Rick and Bryan Kelly provides a strong presence as Eli.
While the script could stand some minor revisions, if only to soften the sermonizing withn the play’s final moments, this is an entertaining production. Featuring a cast of talented actors and directed with energy and intelligence by the playwright himself, it brings to a close another season of excellence for this fine professional company.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented May 7-June 15 by Provision Theater Company, 1001 W. Roosevelt Rd., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 312-455-0066 or by going to www.provisiontheater.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.