Jack Goes Boating is the story of four loveable but sometimes awkward friends exploring what it means to start, continue, and even end a relationship. Brought to life by Garett Ross (Jack), Frank Zotter (Jack’s friend Clyde), Mabelle Carvajal (Clyde’s wife Lucy), and Shawna Burnett (Jack’s love interest, Connie), the play is a cute, funny, and sometimes awkward and disturbing look at what it takes to be in a relationship. Just like any of us, each couple has their own set of issues plaguing his or her relationship. Lucy and Clyde, though they’ve been married for five years, are still dealing with the mistrust various “indiscretions” have caused over the years, while Jack and Connie explore Connie’s fear of sex and intimacy, caused by a stranger’s attack early in their relationship.
The play explores several interesting themes, including using the swimming lessons Jack receives from Clyde as a metaphor for Jack’s developing relationship with Connie. In our day-to-day lives, we use a lot of metaphors related to water and swimming – drowning, sinking under, keeping a float – all of these which can be used to describe how we sometimes feel in relationships. Clyde – who’s five year marriage with Lucy is on the edge of divorce – teaches Jack to swim through a carefully designed routine of lessons. Yet, is Clyde the right person to teach Jack how to swim, in order to move Jack’s relationship forward, when Clyde is barely treading water in his own? Moreover, for most of the lessons, Clyde isn’t actually in the water, instead standing by the poolside yelling instructions. What it means when, at the end of the play, Clyde jumps into the water himself, I’ll leave for you to decipher.
More interesting though than the thematic elements the play explores are the relationships between the characters. When I came home from the play and made notes about my initial reaction, the overwhelming thought I had was about the chemistry between the actors and how that was developed over the play. I have to say, for me, in the November 8 production, I just didn’t believe the relationships between the actors, although this could have also been attributable to the play being early in its run.
For example, Clyde and Lucy have been married for five years – yet I didn’t see Zotter (Clyde) and Carvajal (Lucy) interacting on stage as such. While the characters are in the midst of trying to make their marriage work, in spite of “indiscretions” that each party has had, the actors did not interact as though they’d been together for more than five years. After being together for that long – despite how they currently feel towards each other – couples act a certain way towards each other, even if it’s just being attentive of where the other is in the room. I didn’t see that on November 8. In particular the “seduction” scene was a bit clumsy – not that I was expecting passion, but the actors didn’t have the air of having been together many times. Moreover, this type of scene is typically used as a “reconciliation” between couples, with one person usually being surprised or hesitant. To me, this felt like a typical “every Wednesday night” seduction, which I don’t think it wasn’t intended to be.
The chemistry between Jack and Connie was a bit more believable, likely because the couple was in the beginnings of a relationship and so a little (or a lot!) of awkwardness and clumsiness is expected. However, for two people who are supposed to be enthralled in the joys of early romance, the body language really didn’t fit. For example, when Jack is telling Clyde not to yell at Connie, he moved behind Connie. It would have seemed more natural for him to have moved in front of her. In a separate “fooling around” scene, Jack’s body is turned away from Connie, even though they’re in an intimate act. I spent most of the play not really knowing whether Jack and Connie were “into” each other – their words told me yes, but their bodies said, “uhm, maybe”. Designing the stage blocking so that Jack and Connie were constantly maneuvering closer to one another (though not necessarily touching) would have made their chemistry more believeable while still demonstrating Connie’s sexual issues.
All this is not to say Jack Goes Boating is a bad play. The dialogue is incredibly funny, and the story is full of heart-warming and heart-wrenching moments – just the way a romantic comedy should be. Separately, the actors put on a great show. In particular, Shawna Burnett as Connie pulls at the two sides of my heart – the part that’s scared to death of anything that might expose me to pain, and the part that’s hopeful about the future and finding true love. Once the play is further in its run, I think audiences will see and feel the chemistry – different as it may be – between both couples.
Jack Goes Boating plays in Edmonton at the Varscona Theatre November 7 – 25 then runs in Calgary November 28 – December 8. Check out YEGLive.ca for Edmonton schedule information. Tickets range from $16 – $27.
– Jenna Marynowski