Movies about single people navigating the dating scene and pondering their failed relationships are invariably labeled "chick flicks." Is the world so desperate for the male take on singlehood that Aaron Ginsburg's Straight Jacket & Tie would be hailed as an achievement? Prior to this New York premiere by Vital, Straight Jacket & Tie was voted Best New Play by Dallas critics and garnered rave reviews for its Los Angeles run.
The one redeeming character in the play is James, a sweet and sensitive guy who's beginning to question his immature, unfulfilling existence of bar-hopping by night, bagel-hawking by day. As embodied by the sweet and sensitive George L. Smith, James is the ideal romantic comedy hero. Except this play isn't a romantic comedy, although it's billed as such: the characters are more alone and depressed at the end than they were at the beginning, and they never even have a romance. The resoundingly negative ending suggests that shedding your post-college complacency and immaturity means angrily breaking off your old friendships.
Another inexplicable thing is why James would ever be friends with the likes of Russel (Adam Groves), a character who would be more at home in a Sam Shepard play. Russel is a vile, inconsiderate drunk who doesn't care that he has no job, no girlfriend, no future -- and his monologue toward the end of the play about how he was dumped by a woman he loved does not justify his heartlessness.
The third member of the household is Scott, a character who's not unlikable as much as he's erratically developed. One minute he's acting like a hedonistic prick, the next minute he's moping on the couch. He coaches James on self-confidence, but acts submissive at work and in bars. And though he presents himself as an alpha male, there's something about the dialog and gestures in his more thoughtful moments with his buddies (not to mention his strutting around in a tank top) that smacks of latent homosexuality. Scott is portrayed by the handsome Jeff Meacham and has what appears to be a well-paying job, so his reluctance to approach the women he ogles is illogical, since those are just the superficial assets one needs for bar pickups.
There's a lot more in Straight Jacket & Tie that doesn't make sense. Most notable: Claire (Mayhill Fowler), the woman James meets in the grocery store. She flirts with him, even going so far as to make an embarrassing joke about the dairy section calling her name just to get them to introduce themselves. But when he finally asks her out, she declines, explaining that she has a serious boyfriend. This character is not written or portrayed as a tease or a woman whose friendliness is misconstrued. So why was she flirting so much with James?
As if implausibility wasn't problematic enough, the script also features hackneyed discussions of some minutiae of pop culture: in one scene, it's the donkey prizes on Let's Make a Deal (which went off the air 25 years ago, around the time these characters were born); in another, it's the "empirical truth or falsehood" of Beatles songs (whatever that means).
The set and props in Straight Jacket & Tie are fine, and music is used between scenes effectively. There are even a couple of funny jokes scattered throughout the play, most memorably James's paranoid fantasy that begins Act 2. But the play is futile as a treatise on single young adulthood.
(Also featuring Norm Isaksson. Costumes, Sidney J. Shannon; set and lighting, Aaron Spivey; sound, Simone Smith.)
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Copyright 2002 Adrienne Onofri