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So laid back that it might fall over if you breathed on it, Bob Glaudini’s Jack Goes Boating is a tiny moral fable treating love as a kind of tortoise-and-hare contest: The slow and steady couple, though first depicted as maladjusted losers, wins the race to the happy ending. Set in a lower-middle urban world of no-exit drudge jobs, with night school and recreational drugs for relief, Glaudini’s naturalistic script takes a long, laconic time over its simple story, veering from big traumas that don’t fully register to kitchen disasters that suggest stoned sitcom; its sweetness and surface truth, though pleasurably genuine, don’t offer the characters either much depth or much convincing context. Their realness is all they’ve got.
Still, that’s a lot for actors to go on, and director Peter DuBois has assembled a quartet that can’t make a wince or a vocalized pause without carrying total conviction. Philip Seymour Hoffman, who apparently was born to incarnate losers, etches the title role to perfection. John Ortiz, as his eager-jackrabbit buddy, and Daphne Rubin-Vega, as Ortiz’s goodhearted but easily vexed girlfriend, run up and down their emotional ranges with the assurance of a piano virtuoso practicing scales.
Best of all, because new to me, is Beth Cole as the ultra-cautious object of Hoffman’s desire, alternately backing and champing at the bit like a thoroughbred filly. As in last year’s Measure for Pleasure, such uniformly high performance quality must owe something to DuBois’s direction, about which my only regret is that he didn’t throw away the lavish (though well-designed) physical production, trim the script by a third, and stage it, as it would have been staged in Glaudini’s Theater Genesis days, with four chairs, a table, and maybe one prop.