By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Male taciturnity is publicly scorned today, along with drinking and whoring -- contemporary moralists insist on showing FDR in a wheelchair while they snatch the cigarette from his mouth. Too often, Jenny’s narrative assumes this revisionist tone; her father may have lived a life of deep denial by refusing to utter the word retarded, but at least he didn‘t suck out a room’s air with lines like “I‘m pissed!,” “I hate my life!” and “Look at meeeeeee!” -- as does his daughter.
Not surprisingly, the playwright’s self-absorption also skews her narrative focus. A 1991 scene in which she drives her now-elderly father to Pomona, to bring the institutionalized John news of his mother‘s death, would seem ripe for some gruesomely funny moments, but it instead becomes an aria of complaint about Barry’s silence, his smoking and even the choice of highway he asks his daughter to take to Pomona.
Director Joseph Fuqua takes J for J about as far as he can, assembling a handsome-looking event on Hugh Landwehr‘s set, whose intentionally artificial proscenium arch is fashioned from bricks of journal entries, while upstage a pair of stylized quadrilaterals form windows. The actors are onstage for almost all of the play: Jenny and John are usually found center stage, while Barry mostly sits at stage left in the past, at a small desk and typewriter; a bottle of Jack Daniel’s 15 feet away provides his motivation to cross the stage now and then.
Ritter, in a truly difficult role, turns in a fine perform-ance as John, a part that could have easily degenerated into an exercise in tics and scene chewing. Instead, he applies just the right amount of movement when his character is disengaged, and expressive pathos when he is speaking, to create a fully realized presence out of a deeply retarded person.
Meanwhile, as a ghost, Kober may not have many decisions to make onstage, but his stoic elegance and sonorous voice give substance to a character whose carefree stroll through life is slightly hobbled by regret. The two male actors‘ psychological modulations are missing in Jenny’s portrayal, whose mostly upbeat delivery is almost hygienic in its enthusiasm. J for J benefits from some good performances and nice technical flourishes, but its mawkishly confessional tone is betrayed by the bane of this genre: home movies and photo slides. In the end, the audience member can be forgiven for exclaiming, “What about ME!”