Jewel Box Theatre closes season with 'Coming Back to Jersey,' winner of its 2010 playwriting contest 

"Coming Back to Jersey"
8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday,
2:30 p.m. Sunday, through May 9
Jewel Box Theatre
First Christian Church
3700 N. Walker
$15 adults, $10 students

Written by Oklahoman Carl L. Williams, "Coming Back to Jersey" tells the story of middle-aged married couple Howard and Norma Karchmer.

Howard has a rich fantasy life, imagining himself to be James Bond, while Norma has become convinced that her husband's wandering mind might be a sign of infidelity and decides to test him by having her friend, Dorothy, make a pass at him. This, of course, sets in motion a series of events that lead to confusion, suspicion and high jinks.

As Howard, Randall Hunter is the heart and soul of "Jersey." His portrayal of the Jewish tailor who longs to do great things, but never does, is sweet, funny and highly watchable. Some of his best scenes are opposite Renee Pitts as Dorothy, the family friend who tries to seduce Howard. In a hilarious performance that is at times delightfully overly sexualized and at others concerned and in control, Dorothy's motivations are an interesting mix of wanting to help Howard and Norma, while also stirring up trouble.

As Dorothy's partner-in-crime, Sidney, Jeff Perkins is a suave, smooth-talking gentleman who brings out the best in Chris Harris' Norma, during a scene in which he persuades her to go on a date with him.

As Norma, Harris gives a committed performance, but between the character's suspicious and at times nagging behavior and her particular choice of grating Jersey drawl, it's not always easy to empathize with her.

The couple's daughter, Louise, played by Hillary Finch, and her boyfriend, Freddy, played by Dale Morgan, are largely there for comic relief. Finch in particular acquits herself exceedingly well in the role, with a highly entertaining over-the-top performance. Morgan also goes for broke as the nervous, eager-to-please Freddy, but his explosions of nervous shouting eventually become a little monotonous.
While the cast does fairly solid work, the play itself could benefit from another revision. It would be nice to see Howard's fantasy life better explored, or the spy aspect emphasized more in the games of deception. It also doesn't make a lot of sense that when things get complicated, Howard never tries to tell Norma that he was just trying to teach her a lesson by going on a date with Dorothy.

Probably the most troubling aspect currently is that Howard isn't really given a great reason to stay with Norma, other than that they've been together for years, so it's better to stay with what you know. The situation isn't helped that Dorothy shows an interest and concern for Howard that feels more genuine and substantial than Norma's. Furthermore, Howard doesn't really grow as a person.

The production values are strong, although the sets and costumes look a little dated for the present-day setting and the Bond themes that play during the scene breaks don't really complement the tone of the piece.

Aside from feeling a little too plot-driven, "Jersey" features great dialogue and fun characters, and has the makings of a solid screwball comedy. As it is now, it's a pleasant enough trip to take " just be wary of road construction. "Eric Webb

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Eric Webb

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