Review: 'The House That Jack Built'

November 7, 2012
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While I intend to dive into every gallery show, performing arts production and book with the same level of optimistic open-mindedness, the truth is, works occasionally come along that I’m rooting stronger for than others. Case in point: James Still’s play “The House That Jack Built,” having its world premiere at the Indiana Repertory Theatre.

For one, there’s the risk factor. It takes enormous faith to offer an untested work at an institutional theater. Indiana audiences don’t exactly flock to the unknown and offering one can lead to marketing nightmares. While having a qualty theater that offers the tried-and-true is important, I also selfishly want the IRT to take more chances.

There’s also the unique thrill of having a first look at a show, having little idea about the characters, the plot, or even the tone of the work. Seeing a new play means being thrown into the deep end of someone else’s world. And I love that.

I’m also eager to love a play by Still, the IRT playwright in residence (who actually resides elsewhere) whose last few works haven’t given me much to praise.

Alas, “The House That Jack Built” doesn’t change that. The uninspired Thanksgiving story about friends getting together, along with their respective partners, for a holiday meal. The complication is that the Jack of the title (the sister of one/husband of the other) has died and his loss is still deeply felt.

Peopled with characters whose traits feel pinned on rather than organic, the play has the guts to quote Chekhov without the vision to stand up with him. A good Chekhov play makes you ache for its characters—for their humanity and for their ability to love and hurt each other, often at the same time. They are also rooted in place and time. Still’s characters, in a generic Vermont setting, don’t feel capable of doing much damage to each other, rendering the friendly ending a foregone conclusion. The production itself doesn’t help. Everyone is amiable but there’s no bite, no bile, and no energy in the relationships. I’m still not sure if couple Jules and Eli actually are attracted to each other. Even the anticipated arrival of the play’s token eccentric doesn’t pay off. She turns out to be another collection of often-inconsistent traits rather than a full-blooded human being. Emotions seem to last only about as long as the speeches about them, then fade away.

None of which would matter much if the play were particularly funny or insightful. "The House That Jack Built" contains a few smiles, a few laughs, and some writing that may have seemed dynamic on the printed page. Here, though, it comes across as just barely warmed-up leftovers.

Thanks, nonetheless, to the IRT for trying something new.

Your thoughts? 


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  1. I think the poster was being sarcastic and only posting or making fun of what is usually posted on here about anything being built in BR or d'town for that matter.

  2. Great news IRL fans: TURBO the IMS sanctioned movie about slugs running the Indy 500 has caught the Securities and Exchange Commission because Dreamworks had to take a $132MILLION write down...because the movie was such a flop. See, the Indy/IMS magic soiled another pair of drawers. Bwahahahahahaha! How's CARTOWN doing? HAHAHAHA...Indy is for losers.

  3. So disappointed in WIBC. This is the last straw to lose a good local morning program. I used to be able to rely on WIBC to give me good local information, news, weather and traffic on my 45 minute commute.Two incidents when I needed local, accurate information regarding severe weather were the first signs I could not now rely on WIBC. I work weekend 12 hour nights for a downtown hospital. This past winter when we had the worst snowfall in my 50 years of life, I came home on a Sunday morning, went to sleep (because I was to go back in Sunday night for another 12 hour shift), and woke up around 1 p.m. to a house with no electricity. I keep an old battery powered radio around and turned on WIBC to see what was going on with the winter storm and the roads and the power outage. Sigh. Only policital stuff. Not even a break in to update on the winter storm warning. The second weather incident occurred when I was driving home during a severe thunderstorm a few months ago. I had already gotten a call from my husband that a tornado warning was just southwest of where I had been. I turned to WIBC to find out what direction the storm was headed so I could figure out a route home, only to find Rush on the air, and again, no breaking away from this stupidity to give me information. Thank God for my phone, which gave me the warning that I was driving in an area where a tornado was seen. Thanks for nothing WIBC. Good luck to you, Steve! We need more of you and not the politics of hatred that WIBC wants to shove at us. Good thing I have Satellite radio.

  4. I read the retail roundup article and tried Burritos and Beers tonight. I'm glad I did, for the food was great. Fresh authentic Mexican food. Great seasoning on the carne asada. A must try!!! Thanks for sharing.

  5. John, unfortunately CTRWD wants to put the tank(s) right next to a nature preserve and at the southern entrance to Carmel off of Keystone. Not exactly the kind of message you want to send to residents and visitors (come see our tanks as you enter our city and we build stuff in nature preserves...