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Gemma and Jack 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY RIDE HAMILTON

  Gemma and Jack (presented at Southern Rep's New Play Bacchanal) was a story told by seven authors. The playwrights brainstormed outlines for a male and a female character, then each wrote a 10-minute segment dealing with their relationship.

  The result was somewhat postmodern: the narrative build toward a climax was dissipated, and it was not always clear how the episodes fit together. At times, it seemed like a mosaic that had been broken and reassembled in a random fashion.

  But the element of surprise was part of the fun. In the first episode (by Brian Sands), the unacquainted Gemma (Kerry Cahill) and Jack (Garrett Prejean) are trapped in a stalled elevator. As the hours crawl by, their nerves grow more and more on edge. They finally attempt to dislodge the elevator by jumping up and down on the floor, and this burst of energy is more effective than repartee in bringing them together. They fall into each others' arms and kiss.

  There was hardly any set and few props, but under the nuanced direction of Aimee Hayes, the actors brought the somewhat amorphous characters to fascinating life.

  The story spans 1984 to 2011 in a series of scenes separated by blackouts. Most of the Gemma-and-Jack romance was sketched by Madison Curry, Amanda Zirkenbach, Cahill, Jon Broder, Bradley Troll and Pat Bourgeois. The program included some of the protagonists' biographical and psychological background, and bits and pieces turned up at odd moments, often to comic effect. Gemma, for instance, got into a bar fight, was jailed, and while in the slammer, got a tattoo from a prostitute.

  The play focuses most on the lovers' separations and reunions, and there is a strong sense that they are fated to be together. In the last segment (by Paul Werner), we see what seems a final stable union. While doing yoga together after their most recent reconciliation, Jack has a premonition. He senses Gemma is pregnant. Convention dictates that tragedies end in funerals and comedies end in weddings, so there is nothing left to do but kiss and vow to tie the knot.

  Gemma and Jack was a highlight of the New Play Bacchanal, an annual festival of original work with many staged readings. The event is an exciting addition to the local theater scene. — Dalt Wonk

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