written by Robert Mollohan
directed by Karen Landry
Ruskin Group Theatre Co.
through June 12
(no performances Memorial Day Weekend)
Robert Mollohan's play Jesse Boy, now receiving its world premiere at Ruskin, is a potent mix of reality and fantasy.
Kitchen sink reality dominates the scenario, but with the onstage charisma and sex appeal of its central character Richie (Mollohan) - who does Elvis to acclaim - it reaches an unexpected high on the entertainment scale. Like Del Shores' The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife, Jesse Boy has its fair share of abuse and brutality. More actually than ...Housewife, as spouses and siblings are tortured and raped here. Even animals are not spared. But it is all wrapped up in an attractive package that we can accept, because we all long for the American Dream and will root for the underdog to achieve it, despite the fact that he is a menace in his personal life. How many stars win our hearts but have been arrested for crimes and misdemeanors? The list is plentiful. Richie is egomaniacal and has no heart. But, boy, can he play Elvis! Those around him, his loving girlfriend Abigayle(Jaimi Paige), her retarded brother Jesse (Zach Book), Richie's homeless father Red (Chris Mulkey) and Jesse's 'sitter' stripper Mary Lou (Kathleen Nicole Parker) all possess enough tenderness and caring to make up for Richie's lack of it and to keep us riveted to their story, set 12 years after Elvis' death when impersonation of him became the rage in Vegas and eventually everywhere.
One lowkey scene in particular stands out early on in the plot when, on Halloween, Red entices Jesse with tales of demonic monsters. Although amusing on the surface, they strike a familiar chord with the boy, who is already subject to a far more dreaded evil in his everyday living arrangements. Comic relief with an eerie foretelling of more tragedy to follow.
Karen Landry has done a great job of pacing her actors, who all give powerfully engaging performances. Mollohan is simultaneously attractive and despiccable as Richie. His primping in front of the mirror and video taping of himself as Elvis offer glorious moments of character detail. Paige is loveable as Abigayle, and despite her character's flaws, Parker makes Mary Lou genuinely sympathetic. Book, in his first stage role, is totally convincing as the afflicted Jesse. His sustained physicality and reactions of fear and understandable volatility are amazingly real. Chris Mulkey is dynamic in his down-to-earth portrayal of a man who has lost eveything, but is still willing, although he takes, to give something back to his fellow man. Mollohan as playwright makes Red his true mouthpiece in Jesse Boy, a raw and unbridled character study that demands to be seen.
5 out of 5 stars