Chicago Theater Review: THE JACKSONIAN (Profiles)

Post image for Chicago Theater Review: THE JACKSONIAN (Profiles)

by Lawrence Bommer on August 28, 2015

in Theater-Chicago


Beth Henley, author of 1979’s Pulitzer-winning Crimes of the Heart, has practically patented the Southern stereotype. Drawling in a stilted patois, Henley’s desperate, demented creatures are hell-bent on self-destruction: They’re pathologically ready to TimCurtis,RachelSleddcommit “crimes of the heart” to not get their way. 33 years after her masterpiece, Henley is still mining the mazes of dysfunction and deception in The Jacksonian, a 2012 dark comedy that’s too incoherent to be a cry for help. It’s enough that Henley–and Profiles’ probingly manic Midwest premiere–delivers the damaged goods with humanity as much as humor.

Joe Jahraus’ 90-minute staging doggedly recreates the hothouse world of the fly-blown Jacksonian Motel, a dead-end dump outside Jackson, Mississippi. (This is as marginal as it gets.) In seven months of 1964, Henley’s five wacko characters batten on each other: Secrets and blood get shed, curses and prophecies fulfilled and, well, we get Southern Gothic and Grand Guignol up the Wazoo. Grounding the quirkiness in a sort of historical context are the local murder of a Texaco service-station cashier, supposedly killed by a convicted “colored” suspect, and the continual K.K.K. bombings of “Negro” churches.


Estranged from his semi-suicidal wife Susan (Rachel Sledd), sued for grisly malpractice, local dentist and wife-beater Bill Perch (Tim Curtis) is holed up in this seedy motor inn. The self-exile is sporadically accompanied by his pimply teenage daughter Rosy (Juliana Liscio), a Cassandra-like doomsayer who sees blood and may shed it. Drawn to this hotel of fools, dizzy and disturbed Susan perversely warms to her social opposite, the secretive bartender Fred Weber (Christian Isely). An outcast even in these outskirts, this former carny sword-swallower is uncertainly engaged to Eva White (Betsy Bowman), a fortune-hunting motel maid and full-time racist. On to him from the start, prescient Rosy sees him as a murderer in the make.


Nothing good can come from this amoral morass of flawed failures. At least Henley’s non-linear storyline keeps the tabloid tale more interesting than its sordid contents deserve. In the long run, the one-act is basically a creep show that features chloroform seduction, oral sex (as in the dentist’s mouth and teeth obsessions), double crosses, toxic separation anxiety and a very American unquiet desperation. “A plague on all your houses” is the sweetest wish you can give them.


For what it’s worth Jahraus’ direction is taut enough, though there’s too little suspense baked into this cruel confection. Clearly inspired by Katie-Bell Springmann’s sickly-sweet set, he captures the evil eccentricities of Henley’s rogues’ gallery of talking wounded. Curtis’ caricature of small-town respectability, Sledd’s slumming wife, Bowman’s good-time girl and opportunistic predator, and Isely’s stupid sociopath fully deserve their Pandora’s box. Then there’s ill-named Rosy: Adding a dark dignity to the dirty doings, Liscio’s hapless seer can only proclaim the worst. As if this magnolia-scented mess is anything like a Greek tragedy.

ChristianIsely,JulianaLiscio,RachelSleddphotos by Michael Brosilow

The Jacksonian
Profiles Main Stage, 4139 N. Broadway
Thurs and Fri at 8; Sat at 5 & 8; Sun at 7
scheduled to end on October 11, 2015
for tickets, call 773.549.1815
or visit

for info on more Chicago Theater, visit

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Dmitry Zvonkov September 2, 2015 at 12:03 pm

Leave a Comment