nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
May 18, 2007
Even in a harsh world, true love can be found. I find this notion, which is the crux of Clint Jefferies's play The Jocker, comforting and yet not surprising. The search for love is at the core of our existence. Sometimes we find it when we're not even looking for it. This play is certainly interesting; it has warm relationships and cold reality, it's dramatic and yet often funny, but what is not is surprising and there are some details that should not have been overlooked.
The Jocker is set in the early years of the Great Depression and peopled by the rugged men or "hobos" who used to hop the railroad system in search of work. There are three couples, the first giving the play its name. Back in this time an older man would take on a young boy as his apprentice/servant/sex toy. The older man was called a Jocker and the boy was his Punk. It would seem that these relationships were as accepted as they were rejected. The second couple is a partnership and is marked by love, respect, and happiness. The final relationship (and the most interesting in the context of this play) is between a camptown male prostitute and a straight man.
The Punk, named simply Nat, is hopelessly stuck in an abusive relationship with his Jocker, Billy. He sees the love between the second couple, Bama and Shakespeare, and decides he wants something more like that. He, in fact, does whatever is necessary to get what he wants, even if it will hurt those around him (and hurt them he does). Bama has been living this life since he was a teenager and became a man's punk or gunsel as they called them when he was young. He is very insecure and even though he is older than Shakespeare he clings to him like a lost puppy. The story of the last couple, Lucky and Dodger, is more of a subplot. They find unexpected love when Lucky is in need of the help of a friend. The play unfolds naturally, if perhaps predictably, and ties up at the end rather neatly.
Playwright Clint Jefferies gives us an enormously compassionate play about folks you'd expect to be too jaded and hardened by life to have an ounce of compassion left in them, and he does it in a very well-made play. Granted, he uses somewhat transparent foreshadowing and also some fairly cliché lines and mostly stereotypical characters, but these things did not create in me an entire lack of emotional connection to some of his characters. Jefferies has certainly done his research giving his play historical accuracy, but it would seem that director Jeffery Corrick and costume designer Laura Kleeman have not always paid heed to this accuracy.
The costumes are just too neat and sexy. Some of the men wear sleeveless long john tops buttoned low to expose their bulging pectoral muscles as if these "hobos" had been popping into a gym in between hopping trains. I think Kleeman could have benefited from thinking of this project as "A Hobo Eye for the Queer Guy" as opposed to the opposite. Most of them also had clean faces and perfectly placed hairdos (there is no one credited for hair and makeup).
Director Corrick does a good with his pacing and staging, leading us all around the stage very effectively. But he never fully immerses us in the world of this play. I constantly felt pulled out of the world by his overlooking of minor details such as the aforementioned hair and costumes and also flawed dialects and uneven acting.
The cast is mostly good. Some really excel in their roles while others could stand for a little improvement. As to the former, Jason Alan Griffin as Bama delivers a very endearing central character though his accent slips here and there. David Tacheny is solid and believable as Dodger. But it is Stephen Tyrone Williams who truly rises above the pack as Lucky. He is exceedingly focused and I never saw him acting even for a moment. Stephen Cabral and Michael Lazar are effective as Billy and Shakespeare respectively, but Nick Matthews in the role of Nat seems to be in a constant state of hyperactivity. On more than one occasion he starts a speech off at way too high a level and then has nowhere to go. Corrick should step in and help him with this.
This production is a part of Wings Theatre's Gay Plays Series and it definitely has some beautiful things to say about love and companionship. I think if you can look past the flawed details you can have a somewhat fulfilling experience with this show.