What makes us attracted to those that are bad for us? Why do we stay in unhealthy relationships? Can anything good come from bad? These are the central questions that Jericho, a new play by Michael Weller dives into. Although he explores these issues poignantly, the overall play fails to deliver as it is too scattered in its current state.
Set in Coney Island in 1932, Jericho, a charismatic man without any real skills, finds himself working on a carousel. One night, a young girl, Julie, enters the carousel and instantly falls head over heals for Jericho. However, Jericho’s boss, Mrs. Mosca is also pining for him and in a heated scene bans Julie from ever riding the carousel again. But Jericho won’t have it and quits the carousel, his only paying job, and pursues a roller-coaster relationship with the, innocent, yet outspoken Julie. Penniless, the new couple end up living with Mrs. Hendrick. When Jericho learns of Julie’s pregnancy, he begins to look for ways to earn fast money. Unfortunately for him, Tynk, a scoundrel, entices him to commit robbery. Then in Act two all hell breaks loose and Julie’s left to pick up the pieces.
Act one starts off strong as the three strongest actors in the play: Hannah Sloat, (Julie), Stephanie Pope (Mrs. Mosca), and Vasile Flutur (Jericho) occupy the stage for most of the time. Their connection to each other and the broken love triangle they form captivate the audience. It is here where the heart and soul of Weller’s work dwells. Flutur plays the deeply troubled and damaged Jericho with many layers. We love seeing him negotiate the nuances and subtleties of his character. Pope plays Mrs. Mosca with power, yet shows her softness for Jercho well. Sloat adds a nice contrast as the fiery, outspoken Julie. Yet her overall innocence shines through and we are always on her side against all odds.
Unfortunately the rest of the cast is not as strong and it falls apart in Act two. Erinn Holmes plays Mrs. Hendrick, an older woman who owns a photography shop where Julie and Jericho stay when they are homeless. Holmes tries very hard to portray her character. Yet, she puts on affected speech and tries to sound older than she is. This does not work in her favor. Her speech is so strangely pronounced that it sounds fake and forced. This makes it hard to listen to her as she is clearly struggling on stage. This makes for an uncomfortable performance. Maybe it was because I was seated in the first row, but it is clear that she is wearing copious amounts of make-up thickly layered on. This does not serve her or the play well as we instantly know that she is not the right age for her character. It makes it hard to take her seriously. A simpler approach in terms of make-up and speech would greatly enhance her authenticity.
But in general, Act two loses its potency as Weller adds in extra scenarios that we do not need. There is a narrative character always on stage and though his complete presence adds a nice ominous tone in Act one, in Act two he speaks to the audience more and it seems to come out of nowhere. Sometimes he is integral and powerful, but often he is just unnecessary and detracts us from the heart of the play. There are similar moments when the dialogue gets wonky and starts to feel like a cliche rather than true discourse.
Yet, the very last scene (which I won’t give away) gets us back on track and tears at our heart strings. Sloat and Flutur save this act from being a total train wreck. I hope Weller will revise his play and let these honest moments that touch us stand and remove all the clutter that’s around them. It seems as if Weller is stuck between writing very poignant moments that come pouring out of his soul and other moments where he is in his head and trying to force an outcome. When Weller let’s go and writes from his soul we are transported and moved. But when he tries to be “crafty” he loses us. Right now. Jericho, like its main characters, is stuck between worlds and is a diamond in the rough. But, the most important thing is that the diamond is there, it just needs to be polished up before it can shine to its true potential.