nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 12, 2005
I remember some wit once observing, "When life hands you lemons, write a lemon cookbook." Chris John Jackson, the highly likable and almost certainly completely insane progenitor of Jackson's Way, would seem to have taken that advice to heart. Jackson's Way, we learn very early in the playful one-man show (created and performed by the talented actor Will Adamsdale), is the way of the utterly hapless. Most people, Jackson tells us, spend their lives in pursuit of achievements and objectives—pointful things, to use his rather charming coinage. But so many more things are pointless: why not instead devote oneself to them?
By way of illustration, Jackson shows us an easy pointless exercise: he hands someone in the audience (me, as it turned out) a hand towel, and asks them to toss it back on stage. Later, he leads the entire crowd through more complex "Jacksons" (for he's named these ridiculous activities after himself—why not?). The climactic one, which lasts at least ten minutes or so, had one audience member discussing her trip to Paris, another running downstairs to the bar, a third staring at a wall, a fourth dancing backstage (behind a curtain), and everyone else shouting out nonsense syllables at key moments, as instructed. It's hilariously anarchic, or vice versa: Dame Edna-style audience participation turned resolutely on its ear. If anybody comes in to Jackson's Way thinking that interactivity had any point at all, they'll see the error of their ways by the time Chris John is through with them.
Through most of the show, Adamsdale's satirical target is the self-help guru: the Jonathan Pond/Suze Orman/Suzanne Somers self-glorifiers whose oversized egos allow them to charge strangers lots of money to tell them how to live their lives better. As I've already suggested, Jackson's advice is ludicrously silly, which already makes Jackson's Way splendidly pointed; but Adamsdale has the rhythms and trappings of the self-help biz down cold, which makes the parody even richer. He's got cheesy PowerBuilder slides; a storehouse of acronyms, catch phrases, and largely irrelevant personal anecdotes; and a relentlessly perky, faux-energetic delivery. If you've ever spent time in a seminar along the lines that Jackson is so intent on conducting, you'll experience plenty of laughs of recognition.
But—and this is the source of an essential tension that differentiates Jackson's Way from pure parody or standup, and gives it the more interesting texture of drama—Jackson is a wannabe, not the real thing. He's also obviously mentally troubled in some way; we never know exactly what's wrong with him, but his loony behavior isn't just because he's eccentric: something at the core of this man's psyche is seriously amiss. I wish that Adamsdale would give us more information about this, because I found it so fascinating. As it stands, we're clued into just enough of Jackson's delusions that he emerges as a figure of pathos and pity rather than mere foolish fun.
Adamsdale, who is doing exquisite ensemble work in Faster, which precedes Jackson's Way most evenings at the Brits Off Broadway festival, proves himself a marvelously adept solo performer in this show. Chris John Jackson is an inspired creation, one worth visiting again; it wouldn't surprise me if Adamsdale keeps probing this character's depths (and shallows) and turns him into a perennial figure along the lines of Dame Edna. Just as she's the grande dame of celebrity whoredom, Jackson may well be the poster child for disaffected disconnection, which is kind of the opposite affliction.