EmptyLAByrinth Theater Company At the Public Theater, New York
Through April 29
As anybody who saw his Oscar-winning portrayal in "Capote" knows, Philip Seymour Hoffman is an exceptional performer. He is that rare item these days: a true character actor who transforms physically as well as emotionally.
Hoffman brings that singular artistry to "Jack Goes Boating," a serio-comic play by Bob Glaudini receiving its world premiere from the nonprofit LAByrinth Theater Company, where Hoffman is co-artistic director. Playing a limo driver subject to panic attacks when he goes near the water -- and when he contemplates a date with the attractive but needy Connie (Beth Cole) or listens to married friends Clyde (John Ortiz) and Lucy (a sexy Daphne Rubin-Vega) fight -- Hoffman transforms into an inarticulate but tender bundle of physical tics. Only Hoffman could win a laugh by obsessively clearing his throat or sitting on a couch and anxiously shuffling his feet. Out of shape and neurotic but sweet, Hoffman's Jack is the eternal struggling man as hero.
The play, while pleasant and at times affecting, is not up to Hoffman's performance. Set in a carefully but meagerly decorated apartment somewhere in New York City, "Jack" feels like an attempt to channel early Sam Shepard, or like those plays from the 1970s and '80s in which people with unfulfilling lives sit around, drink and smoke dope (lots of that in "Boating"). Glaudini's language has the simple brevity of so-called real conversation, but without the poetry or tang of Shepard, Mamet or John Patrick Shanley. Like Shanley's 1984 "Danny and the Deep Blue Sea," Glaudini wants to dramatize the redemptive power of love (Jack overcomes his fear of water and, as the play's title promises, goes boating with Connie). But Glaudini doesn't provide the style or characters to support his play's intention.
Under the direction of Peter Dubois, the quartet of adept actors elicits moments both touching and funny. The most amusing scene occurs when Clyde gives Jack a swimming lesson, in designer David Korins' cleverly imagined, tiled, shimmering pool. The most affecting scene occurs when Jack sensitively makes love to a fearful Connie. In both cases, though, you see skilled actors, particularly the supremely talented Hoffman, trying to raise an ordinary play to a higher level -- and not making it.
JACK GOES BOATING
Presented by the LAByrinth Theater Company
At the Public Theater
Playwright: Bob Glaudini
Director: Peter Dubois
Set designer: David Korins
Costume designer: Mimi O'Donnell
Lighting designer: Japhy Weideman
Composition/Sound designer: David Van Tieghem
Connie: Beth Cole
Jack: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Clyde: John Ortiz
Lucy: Daphne Rubin-Vega