ALL FOR ONE
Commonalities of the human experience take center stage in Mental Creatures: An Original Play With Music currently making its world premiere at the Lounge Theatre 2 in Hollywood. Written and performed by Jay Jacobson, the solo venture strives to show the sameness in all of us. Just in case the audience might miss the point, the opening song sings it out in a straight forward if not overly simplistic manner. With lyrics like “human nature: different stories all the same” and “for the more I see them, I can see me,” I doubt there is a single patron left uncertain about where the night is going.
Although Jacobson portrays nine different characters during the intermissionless 80 minutes, the plot primarily revolves around the stories of three of them: There’s Jesse, a young painter frustrated by his lack of success and recognition and who has set optimistic yet unrealistic goals that only a youthful outlook can entertain; Sylvia, a sassy widow (rapidly approaching 70 but thinks she can pass for 59) who decides to jump back in the dating pool with disappointing and eye opening results; and Frank, an elderly man who has not so willingly been coaxed out of his lifelong home into an assisted living facility by his son.
As a writer, Jacobson possesses a good ear for the ordinary; his characters, whose lives are anything but extraordinary, are strongly relatable in their everyday blandness. Jacobson is reminding us that a trajectory is played out in the commonplace lives of us all: dreams, hopes, desires, expectations, and opportunities turn to wisdom, resignation and acceptance. The script may not offer any profound life-altering observations, but it certainly succeeds in its goal of illuminating the common threads that hold us all together.
As a performer, he is a gifted mimic who convincingly brings his creations to life. He effortlessly shifts from character to character often playing two parts simultaneously—in essence, having a conversation with himself. However the choice, whether his or director Randy Benner’s, to incorporate mime into the show is a big mistake. It pulls the viewer out of the moment and reminds you that you’re watching an actor playing a role. The accompanying sound effects (i.e. a drawer closing or a wine bottle popping), while perfectly timed and executed, only serve to accentuate that negative effect (light and sound by Kedar Lawrence). The sad fact is that they are totally superfluous and only detract from the action.
Jacobson is on less steady footing as a singer/songwriter. While his lilting voice is pleasant enough, it’s a bit too restricted in its scope and range to leave much of an impression. The tunes, sung to tracks, are all catchy (I left the theater humming “Human Nature”), but too similar in style and sound. The lyrics lack nuance and insight, making them too “in-your face” obvious as to be called truly inspired; they often seem as though they were ripped from the pages of the rhyming dictionary. The overall effect is a cross between Sesame Street and soft Christian Rock. The addition of music is questionable in itself. While an opening number and a closing number as bookends to the piece could have worked, albeit totally unnecessary, the additional songs placed throughout the show serve no real purpose and are another distraction that director Brenner should have jettisoned along with the mime.
The set by Adam Haas Hunter is basically shades of battleship gray with a few steps and a platform. There is some sort of nondescript collage piece on the back wall but I could not tell what it was supposed to represent. A plain black stage would have worked just as well.
As one-man shows go, Mental Creatures is a step above the rest. Billed as a dramedy, it’s an easy and entertaining enough theatrical experience that invites the audience to look at all we have in common. Or as the song from the show says, “I am you and you are me.”
photos by Kedar Lawrence
Lounge Theatre 2 in Hollywood (Los Angeles Theater)
scheduled to end on August 18, 2012
for tickets, call (323) 960-7738 or visit http://www.Plays411.com/mentalcreatures