Jack Afloat 

An adorable slacker brings his romantic ideals to Berkeley's Aurora Theatre.

Jack is a sweet, adorable slacker who suffers from chronic brain freeze and a paralyzing fear of the modern world. As the central character in Bob Glaudini's marvelous new play, Jack Goes Boating at the Aurora Theatre, he shambles through New York City, looking utterly out of place with his white-person dreadlocks and vacuous, wide-eyed stares. He's a limo driver who lives in his uncle's basement, listens to reggae on cassette, and never gets in long-term relationships. He either smokes too much weed or doesn't smoke enough. His closest friends are Clyde and Lucy, a bickering married couple who alternately love and abuse him, since Jack lends himself to abuse. When he finally meets the girl of his dreams it seems utterly impossible that he'll ever attain her. Thus begins an edgy coming-of-age story that's as much about alienation as it is about growing up and falling in love.

Written and incubated at New York City's LAByrinth Theater Company, Jack Goes Boating marks a triumph for Glaudini, who has an incredible ear for dialogue and a good sense of how modern people interact with one another. Under Joy Carlin's direction, the play resembles a sitcom, with quick cuts and shifts-of-location that mirror the fast-paced dialogue. Scenes tend to fade out rather than culminate — at points, you can almost hear that Seinfeld bass line. Equally important are all the signifiers of modern apartment life in New York City: Lucy (played by the infectious Amanda Duarte) takes pride both in the purity of her coffee (Kona or Sumatra) and the potency of her weed (purple haze). Clyde (Gabriel Marin), who works with Jack at the limo service, has a side gig teaching tai chi swimming lessons (which seem a little more like kickboxing once he starts barking commands). They answer the door with a rousing "Yo!" They waste money on high-grade cocaine. They'll stand side by side but seem oblivious of each other, both absorbed in their own separate cell phone conversations. They're the dysfunctional New York couple whose foibles get amplified by fast-paced city life and bad-economy blues.

Into this world walks local actor Danny Wolohan, perfectly cast as the protagonist Jack. He's the one guy pathetic enough to make Clyde and Lucy feel secure in their relationship. He takes swim lessons from Clyde, looking soft and lumpy next to his coach's perfectly chiseled pectoral muscles. He grills Lucy for romantic advice. He sets off looking for "a positive vibe," and finds Connie (Beth Wilmurt), a slip of a girl who works with Lucy at a funeral home, selling bereavement seminars via phone. (She can't close a sale.) Connie seems like the perfect counterpart for Jack. She's a sweet, fidgety girl who, like Jack, needs her foot surgically removed from her mouth. Connie is convinced that every man in New York is out to molest her, from her boss at the funeral home to the guy who broke her nose on the subway to the nurse who helped treat her broken nose in the hospital. She's a mix of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and the Suzanne Somers character from Three's Company — a well-intentioned, ditsy blond with a lot of bucolic sex fantasies (most begin in a rowboat and end in the grass). Connie claims she's not ready "for penis penetration," but that it's okay for Jack to jack her off. Thus, it seems hopeless that the two of them will ever consummate their romance. Jack's willing to give it a go.

Thus begins Jack's endlessly deflected fantasy of going boating, a concept so foreign that he over-enunciates the "t" in "boating" when he talks about it ("Boh-ting"). Under Clyde and Lucy's tutelage, he learns how to cook gourmet food, how to "thrust" (in the pool, that is), and how to philosophize about relationships (in Lucy's words, "Learn about shit you don't like, and live with it"). Much of the play goes toward the education of Jack, who serves as a sounding board for Clyde and Lucy to complain about their own marital problems. Meanwhile, he earnestly tries to be a better person, practicing his arm-thrusts and reciting recipes while he hits the bong, in what might be the most poignant moment of the play.

From the moment Jack arrives at Clyde and Lucy's apartment for what's supposed to be his big dinner date, you sense disaster in the air. Jack has paired a tattersall shirt and tie-dyed tie. He's doing a compulsive throat-clearing thing. Clyde and Lucy are snarling at each other. Once Connie enters the room, the stage is set for spontaneous combustion. Finally, we get to see the four characters all locked in with one another, clashing personalities and quipping through Glaudini's script. It's the setup for a perfect climax, in which all the character relationships are put to a test. Amazingly, Jack comes out of it having learned something.

Everything in this production seems true-to-life, from the cell phones to the chic outfits (credit goes to costume designer Cathleen Edwards) to the colloquial dialogue. But the real star is Wolohan, who hews to the Freaks and Geeks school of acting with his loveable sap of a character. Throughout the play, Jack drifts about trying to find love and be a better person, or at least get a positive vibe. He turns a whip-smart, high-velocity play into a sweet, traditional comedy, and shows that it is indeed possible to find romance — to go boating, as it were — in a contemporary world.

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