The Swearing Jar
nytheatre.com review by Josh Sherman
August 21, 2010
I'll be blunt about this—I do not quite know what to make of The Swearing Jar, a complicated, manipulative piece written by (and starring) Kate Hewlett and produced by the Bridge Theater Company. Unlike many shows this year at FringeNYC, it attempts to gently tug at your heartstrings rather than to shock you with either grotesqueness or humor or wave itself defiantly in your face. Unfortunately, rather than a nice change-of-pace from that rambunctious, frisky vibe, The Swearing Jar misses its intended tender target—the heart—widely, and only manages to alienate itself from the audience by the end of the show.
The Swearing Jar bills itself as a comedy; I feel like that is quite a bit of a misnomer as unfortunately the laughs are few and far between at the performance I saw. That would be okay if Hewlett had meant to pen a drama, but in that case there needs to be some empathy for our heroine Carey (played by Hewlett) through the emotional journey of her pregnancy. Through an unclear series of flashbacks, it is shared that her husband Simon (Vince Nappo) has been hoping to become a father for quite some time, and that Carey is waffling back and forth about her upcoming maternity. The flaky Carey appears to have had a dalliance with a bookstore employee named Owen (Christopher Stanton) and also appears to be somewhat at odds with Simon's mother Bev (Mimi Quillen) over just about everything, but all is not what it seems.
All is also not what it seems when it comes to chemistry between the two leads, i.e., there really isn't any between Hewlett and Nappo. More specifically to the writing, Carey is one of the most unappealing lead characters that I have watched in some time. Her verbal barbs to Simon come across as mean rather than playful, her actions appear hurtful, and her attitude towards the other characters is quite negative. In the script they have been married for 13 years and Carey apologizes for being moody while pregnant—but as far as I'm concerned, if someone is moody that means that they are at least occasionally nice/soft/sweet/caring, but The Swearing Jar gives us none of that. Carey comes across as so incredibly self-centered that it just made me ask myself why would Simon stay married to her that long. As for the title, The Swearing Jar refers to Carey's ill-fated attempt to curb cursing in the house prior to the baby's arrival—but since none of the cursing is actually funny, those intended gags lie dormant.
Hewlett's script dictates that the story be told deliberately out of order, which probably didn't make director Rosemary Andress's job very easy. There is one shining honest moment near the end of The Swearing Jar that finally made me care about a character's thoughts and feelings, and it is the one moment in the play where someone stands up to Carey's trifling behavior. A strongly written lead character has strengths and weaknesses—it is what makes a character seem real. The Swearing Jar needs fewer gimmicks like time-shifting and a lot more humanity if it is to succeed in piercing the heart.