Thursday, May 27, 2010

Jack's Precious Moment

Photo/Evan Sung

Bib (Eddie Kaye Thomas) stands at a podium, wearing a heavy, baby-blue sweater with a reindeer on it, and graphically describes his brother's last moments: "These men grab him and start sawing off his head with a sword...." He continues the eulogy by explaining that he understands where these "terrorist fundamentalist whatevers" are coming from, and despite his boyish face, you can tell he's serious just by looking into his sunken eyes and listening to his question: "How could God not let this happen more often?"

Samuel D. Hunter's play, Jack's Precious Moment, is filled with dissonant moments like these, and its characters are prone to shock-value outbursts or exaggerated actions. Bib's father, Jim (Tom Bloom) insists that his electrical-contractor son is a martyr, and that an American flag draped over some refrigerator boxes makes "a memorial for a fallen soldier." Bib's widowed sister-in-law, Karen (Karen Walsh), falls back on her collection of Precious Moment figurines and a born-again innocence, hiding her life as a former junkie behind dotty mannerisms and her high-pitched voice. Most topsy-turvy of all, the three aren't mourning the loss of a loved one--Jack was an abusive asshole--but rather trying to come to terms with a world so black that a man like that can appear so angelic. So when Karen sums up her plan to have Jack made into a Precious Moment figurine--"I had a husband who drank too much and hit me sometimes, but it's okay because he was killed by terrorists"--Bib, longing for the ease of a "happy Christian" disposition, agrees to help her.

It's an unsettlingly funny play, and it grows even more so given Kip Fagan's overt direction, which hams up facial expressions (like Karen's glue-sniffing eyes) and set-pieces for extra laughs. (To be fair, the cloying sincerity of commercial, religious products is pretty funny, especially to the outsider.) At times, it is even moving, as when a lit-up Bib is driven to recreate the video of his brother's beheading--ironically the only moment of life that Thomas shows in this necessarily muted role--or when a local carny, Chuck (an endearing Lucas Papaelias), flirts with Bib by explaining the sheer randomness of life: "It's got nothing to do with God or the devil, or whatever. It's just meat. We're all just meat. And on that note, would you please put your hand on my penis?" The problem is that Jack's Precious Moment is visibly straining to contain itself, to work toward some greater meaning in spite of its wicked streak. One can't help being disappointed by the unearned significance it settles for: a life-sized Precious Moments figure (Danny Ryan) who dispenses hugs and makes everything OK, even if the hero is left penniless and in a body-cast.

Well, that's faith for you, right. At least with this play, whether you end up believing it or not, you'll leave with some precious chuckles.

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