The Indiana Repertory Theatre is touting The House That Jack Built as “the next great American play,” and it opened to a packed house for last weekend’s world premiere. The buzz around this latest work by IRT playwright-in-residence James Still is well-founded: It received the 2012 Todd McNerney National New Play Prize, and Still’s poetic depiction of a Thanksgiving get-together in Vermont is sharp, witty, and modern.
In the play, set in a large, inviting kitchen, we peer into the holiday gathering of two sisters, Lulu (Deirdre Lovejoy) and Jules (Jenny McKnight), and their significant others. But it’s their extravagant mother, Helen, played by IRT veteran Patricia Hodges, who steals the show.
The drama feels as though it could be about everyone and yet no one in particular, poignantly touching on the myriad situations and emotions many of us encounter during the holidays—the inside jokes siblings share of memories past, the wacky relative who entertains and embarrasses, the straggler trying to fit in, the sorrow of loss. It’s all masterfully executed on stage, and theatergoers at the premiere were visibly moved.
Hodges fell in love with the play as soon as she read it. “It’s a story about people grappling with the loss of a loved one and how hard it is to move forward,” she says, “and I think that’s a really important thing to think about because we have to do that every day.”
The nearly two-hour production went on with no intermission, but with clever dialogue, belly-laugh highs, and grieving lows, the play never dragged. A definite must-see.
The House That Jack Built runs through Nov. 25. Show times vary. Indiana Repertory Theatre, 140 W. Washington St., 635-5252, irtlive.com.
Check out IM’s exclusive Q&A with playwright James Still.
Photos by Zach Rosing, courtesy IRT