×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Jacksonian

Beth Henley has fired up another batch of spicy, Southern-fried gothic grotesques in "The Jacksonian," her strongest offering since the Pulitzer-winning "Crimes of the Heart" three decades ago.

With:
Bill Perch - Ed Harris
Eva White - Glenne Headly
Susan Perch - Amy Madigan
Fred Weber - Bill Pullman
Rosy Perch - Bess Rous

Beth Henley has fired up another batch of spicy, Southern-fried gothic grotesques in “The Jacksonian,” her strongest offering since the Pulitzer-winning “Crimes of the Heart” three decades ago. The secret ingredient at the Geffen appears to be a significant dose of Chicago flavor. Robert Falls helms a stellar cast into a low-keyed but chilling display of everyday psychopathology. The commission of “crimes of the mind” has rarely been made so vivid on any stage.

The very pre-show lighting by Daniel Ionazzi casts a spell. Walt Spangler’s superbly appointed motel interiors – cocktail lounge; single room; and corridor ice machine from left to right – seem positively to throb with the mystery and dread promised by Richard Woodbury’s sound design.

Lights eventually come up on bartender Fred Weber (Bill Pullman) and long-term guest Dr. Bill Perch (Ed Harris). Which isn’t to say illumination is immediately provided on what’s eating this pair of mild-mannered, yet somehow strangely driven professional men a week before Christmas.

Henley plays her dramaturgical cards close to the chest, slowly introducing a trio of ladies for a series of casually chatty encounters familiar from the airy eccentrics of her earlier, lighter work. “I know you think you don’t deserve me,” chirps waitress Eva (Glenne Headly) to putative fiancee Fred, who claims a medically “hardened heart”: “I can’t make a young woman marry a terminal man….You don’t want to make me look bad in the eyes of the Lord? Keep me out of hell, Eva.”

Lonely dentist Bill has been living down the hall for months, hoping for a reconciliation with wife Susan (Amy Madigan), who seems to have more than one screw loose. “I took an arrangement of cauliflowers and irises to the garden club,” she reports. “I thought it was revolutionary. But it went unappreciated and was mocked.”

Also one can short of a six pack is muttering daughter Rosy (Bess Rous), whose Christmas wish is for a wicker wheelchair (yes, she walks perfectly well).

But this is Jackson, Mississippi in 1964, where an elderly black Texaco attendant has been fingered for lynching after the robbery and murder of the station cashier. Nothing is as it seems, and as the five characters and twin stories intersect, the walls of the Jacksonian aren’t thick enough to block out the consequences of racial animus and criminal insanity.

Mountains of character detail are infused within the piece’s brief running time. Headly, Rous and Madigan create broad but carefully shaped portrayals reminiscent of the powerful females in Robert Altman’s richest films.

Meanwhile, Pullman and Harris have never made bolder choices, nor have those choices ever resulted in a stronger payoff. Harris brilliantly, meticulously reduces himself by inches with the aid of tortured memories and the tank of nitrous his trade demands he carries with him. And Pullman’s grim-jawed affability, lacquered Elvis ‘do and willingness to show off his former trade of sword swallower – with a handy butter knife, no less – make for perhaps the finest, quirkiest work of a fine, quirky career to date.

Henley plays fast and loose with chronology, which works, though more literal-minded viewers may need more than the comings and goings of Xmas trappings to signal flashbacks or flash forwards. And she hasn’t completely integrated Rosy’s direct address and creepy commentary with the girl’s moody interactions with her elders.

But this is carping. Henley and “The Jacksonian” earn a place alongside Flannery O’Connor for the searing investigation of twisted pathology to be found both above and below the Mason-Dixon line.

The Jacksonian

Geffen Playhouse, Los Angeles; 128 seats; $99 top

Production: A Geffen Playhouse presentation of a play in one act by Beth Henley. Directed by Robert Falls.

Creative: Sets, Walt Spangler; costumes, Ana Kuzmanic; lighting, Daniel Ionazzi; music and sound design, Richard Woodbury; fight director, Ned Mochel. Opened, reviewed Feb. 16, 2012. Runs through Mar. 25. Running time: 95 MIN.

Cast: Bill Perch - Ed Harris
Eva White - Glenne Headly
Susan Perch - Amy Madigan
Fred Weber - Bill Pullman
Rosy Perch - Bess Rous

More Legit

  • Alexander Dinelaris

    'Jekyll and Hyde' Movie in the Works Based on Broadway Musical

    The Broadway musical “Jekyll and Hyde” is getting the movie treatment from Academy Award winner Alexander Dinelaris. Dinelaris, who is writing and producing the adaptation, won an Oscar for the “Birdman” script and was a co-producer on “The Revenant.” He is producing “Jekyll and Hyde” as the first project under his New York-based development company, [...]

  • Sam Mendes

    Listen: The 'Balls-Out Theatricality' of Sam Mendes

    If you find yourself directing a Broadway play with a cast so big it includes a goose, two rabbits, more kids than you can count and an actual infant, what do you do? If you’re Sam Mendes, you embrace the “balls-out theatricality” of it all. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “There is a kind [...]

  • James Corden Tony Awards

    James Corden to Host 2019 Tony Awards (EXCLUSIVE)

    James Corden has been tapped to once again host the Tony Awards, Variety has learned exclusively. “The Late Late Show” host previously emceed the annual theater awards show in 2016, and won the Tony for best actor in a play for his performance in “One Man, Two Guvnors” in 2012. “I’m thrilled to be returning to [...]

  • Frozen review Broadway

    ‘Frozen’ the Musical Opening in London in 2020

    “Frozen” the musical is coming to London and will open in the West End in fall 2020. The Michael Grandage-directed Disney Theatrical Productions stage show has been on Broadway for a year. Grandage’s production is now set to re-open Andrew Lloyd Webber’s refurbished Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez are behind the [...]

  • Nantucket Sleigh Ride review

    Off Broadway Review: John Guare's 'Nantucket Sleigh Ride'

    Anyone who doesn’t have a cottage on the Cape or the Islands, as they say in Massachusetts, might be puzzled by the title of John Guare’s new play.  “Nantucket Sleigh Ride” is no Revere Beach amusement park ride, but an old whaling term for the death throes of a whale that is still attached to [...]

  • Kiss Me Kate review

    Broadway Review: 'Kiss Me, Kate'

    No, Kate doesn’t get spanked. And for those wondering how the dicey ending of “Kiss Me, Kate” — that musical mashup of “The Taming of the Shrew” and backstage battling exes — would come across in these more sensitive times, well, that’s also been reconsidered for the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Broadway revival of the Cole [...]

  • Betrayal review Tom Hiddleston

    West End Review: Tom Hiddleston in 'Betrayal'

    It takes three to tango, and Jamie Lloyd’s “Betrayal” completely grasps that. Having made it his mission to modernize the way we stage Harold Pinter’s plays, his chic, stripped-down staging starring Tom Hiddleston as a cuckolded husband might be his best attempt yet. Pared back and played out on an empty stage, this masterful play [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content