Strong leads drive disjointed J.B.
It’s not often we get to see a dialogue on stage between God and the Devil.
For the last production of its summer season, Capital TheaterWorks offers just this opportunity with its resurrection of “J.B.,” Archibald MacLeish’s elegant, Pulitzer prize-winning adaptation of the biblical story of Job.
When God, costumed as a carnival balloon merchant, encounters the Devil, costumed as a carnival popcorn vendor, the following question is posed: If God replaced all of the blessings in our lives with horrendous tragedies, could we still have enduring faith?
Suspending the implications of a God who would perversely attempt such an experiment to prove someone could continue believing in him, this play offers a look at the potential for grief to be transformative, for one to rise above substantial personal losses to live another day and continue one’s life and work.
Playing the central roles of deflated balloon merchant Mr. Zuss (God) and popcorn vendor “Nickels” (the Devil) are Shane Hagedorn and Michael McCallum, respectively.
Hagedorn and McCallum make for a nearly equal match, each completely articulate and projecting volumes of sound. Their presence together on stage is highly engaging.
The actors portraying humans, alas, are clearly mere mortals who don’t nearly rise to the level of their provocateurs. Cody Maselkoski, dressed resplendently as the wealthy J.B. (Job), is first too detached in response to horrendous losses and then excessive in expressing grief for those losses.
Wife Sarah, played by Elizabeth Moore, seems at a loss to display grief at all, coming across more as remote and withdrawn than grieving. Even the Devil notices this, observing them accurately as not very good actors.
The actors who play J.B.’s five children all come across as variably creepy. This is especially true for escaped mental hospital inmate Bildad (Jeff Wilson), the near-psychotic looking Eliphaz (Rachel Kabodian) and Zophar (Corrina Van Hamlin), who writhes and squirms like a seductive snake. It’s hard to imagine any of them as persuaders, convincing J.B. to yield his integrity.
This production is Marianne J. Bacon’s first as director, and she has chosen a compelling play. One can hope that in the future she will take more of an active role in developing the actors’ characterizations and not limit herself to stage blocking.
As we reflect on the life and legislative contributions of Edward “Ted” Kennedy to the “newer world” that he and his brothers sought to bring about, it is heartening to realize that people do endure, maintain their faith and continue to imagine the possibility of rising above despair and moving on with life.
This production of “J.B.” does exactly that, no more, no less.
Sept. 6 8 p.m. Friday & Saturday 2 p.m. Sunday FREE, $10 suggested
donation Capital TheaterWorks, Ledges Playhouse, Fitzgerald Park, Grand
Ledge (517) 944-0221 www.capitaltheaterworks.org