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Jack Goes Boating

I would see just about anything that featured Philip Seymour Hoffman, even at the risk of sitting through another Patch Adams (and notice I had to go back 12 years to find a true stinker in his credits). That enough other people feel the same way is the reason we have Jack Goes Boating, a theater adaption about characters depicted in a fashion that wouldn’t normally be expected to lure movie audiences.

Hoffman plays Jack, who works as a limo driver at a Manhattan company owned by his uncle. He would probably be doing something else if he could, and we occasionally see him trying to get into a civil service exam; in the meantime he lives in his uncle’s basement and hopes for love and a better life. His friend and co-worker Clyde (John Ortiz) is married, and with his wife Lucy’s (Daphne Rubin-Vega) determines to help Jack along, by setting him up with Lucy’s co-worker. When we meet Connie (Amy Ryan) it seems to make sense: She and Jack are both life’s walking wounded, though they’re not down and out. Both are willing to try too hard to do something, even if it makes their efforts counter-productive. It’s not until a dinner party set up for the four of them that they realize what has been dawning on the audience, that Clyde and Lucy are by no means so comfortable in their own relationship that they should be giving out advice.

Jack Goes Boating was developed and presented by LAByrinth, the not-for-profit Off-Broadway theater company that Hoffman has been involved with since the mid-1990s. Hoffman directed the film, possibly less to make his debut in that capacity as to make sure that this material was properly treated. (Ryan is the only cast member who wasn’t in the play.) It’s to Hoffman’s credit that, aside from its centerpiece dinner scene, you can’t quite see how this piece could have been done on stage. He is as generous to his fellow performers (Ortiz in particular is awfully good) as he is unsparing of himself, using his bulk to put across Jack’s discomfort with everything. It retains enough of its theatrical attitude that it might be off-putting to audiences used to more direct characterizations, but the tolerant will find it to be a small gem.

m. faust

Watch the trailer for Jack Goes Boating

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