Remember when Saturday Night Live ran in its first year? Remember when All in the Family burst onto television? Remember when we had a national sense of humor before the inept idiocy of politicians shorted our electrical circuits? Despite our troubling losses on the world stage and the hemorrhaging humor-stock-exchange, one can recharge one’s humor batteries at Sharon Playhouse with Judge Jackie directed by John Simpkins. With five actors in a small space this satirical musical gem amusingly mocks reality television, the utter debasement of popular culture, the craven nature of current entertainment: a small space magically expands in laughter.
This is a new, muscular form of the musical: streamlined, invaded by haunting dreams, brutalized by the tsunami of crass banality that has washed over the country, energized by silliness and horror, ll sung with wild abandon. Here is the art of the future: Welcome to the circus of the Zany Gestalt!
Klea Blackhurst as Judge Jackie convincingly contains her misanthropy behind a mask of justice with repeated rulings: “You’ve burned and adjourned.” Every rap of her gravel in the name of honesty and justice brings her closer to insanity tempered by self-revelation. This frustrated hero needs is love, and when love is at her elbow she can’t see further than her nose. She suffers through a moronic miasma of mischievous losers who have no self-respect.
Paul Whitty as her love-sick court bailiff, Henry, delivers a great performance teetering between assured dignity and slavish devotion. As the reversal linchpin of the play, he bears his burden with exacting finesse. Did I say he can sing? Yes, he can with surprising shading and heartfelt emotion. And, yes, Blackhurst can sing with astonishing clear tones and varied volumes. And a lovely, improbable, duo they make.
Local favorite David Fanning as Shane, the Mephistophelian carnival-media-agent, is in his element in a role that appears to be written just for him. He has the ambition, vanity, drive, narcissism, and unctuous menace the role demands.
Danielle Gimbal as the woman-of-a-dozen faces possesses a voice to match her myriad poses. Her pop culture rendition of the satiric song “Daddy hit (hate) me” remains a peak moment of the two-act play, of which the second act offers measurable superiority. The roll call of underclass pettiness produces a monotonous verisimilitude that could have been just as effective if their middle class greed and angst swam in its natural element of imbecilic narcissism and privilege.
Tim Shea as the man-with-a-dozen personalities tries to mimic so many regional accents that his diction suffers at times when some witty lines are swallowed. His performance as the dream-ghost of the bailiff’s mother remains one of the play’s funniest and most memorable scenes. There’s a supple, sinewy snake-like quality to his performance that lends all men a bad name, just as Gimbal's self-confident crassness and assurance bestow a repulsive quality to all women. (All but Jackie and Henry.)
Many of the songs are amusing and “The Trials of Love” may outlive the show. My praise of this production appears to me far too serious for what this production is at the end of the show: a great laugh had by all. I’m sure this production will live on elsewhere. I hope its intimate quality will be preserved in future productions.