Karen Walsh and Eddie Kaye Thomas
in Jack's Precious Moment
(© Evan Sung)
Karen Walsh and Eddie Kaye Thomas
in Jack's Precious Moment
(© Evan Sung)
Samuel D. Hunter's Jack's Precious Moment, currently performing at 59E59 Theatres as part of the Americas Off-Broadway series, is an uneasy, unappealing mix of quirky comedy and serious drama that succeeds as neither. Moreover, this problematic play desperately needs a sureness of tone and a truthfulness that Kip Fagan's production does not provide.

The action opens on Bib (Eddie Kaye Thomas) giving a eulogy for his twin brother Jack, whose grisly death at the hands of Middle Eastern insurgents was posted to YouTube. Bib's speech to the congregation acknowledges the horror of his brother's ritualistic beheading, but also admires the "purity" of the murder. "We could learn a lot from these terrorist fundamentalists," he says.

This provocative -- if not completely credible -- opening, delivered with naturalistic sincerity, gives way to highly exaggerated domestic scenes in which Bib's father Jim (Tom Bloom) and Jack's widow Karen (Karen Walsh) behave with a loopiness that edges destructively toward absurdism. We soon learn that Karen is obsessed with Precious Moments, keeping a careful arrangement of the company's cloyingly sentimental porcelain figurines as the centerpiece of her living room shrine to her husband. The play's forward action is derived from her quest to travel with Bib to the Precious Moments main offices to appeal to have Jack's beheading immortalized as one of their figurines.

It's imperative that we have at least a belief, if not a respect, for her wish to make her husband's death into a Precious Moment, but as it plays on stage the audience is more likely to feel condescension. Walsh has been allowed to talk in a grating, entirely false baby-woman voice that makes any identification with the character a challenge, while Bloom also uses unreal, senatorial tones as the right-wing cookie-cutter Dad. Both characters come off as cartoon crazies, and it's hard not to feel that they are being offered up for easy mockery through most of the play.

That leaves Thomas to center the play and give it what little emotional authenticity it can muster. But his character's story -- about a romantic dalliance with a drifter (Lucas Papaelias) who owns and operates a carnival ride -- seems in tone and content to come from a totally different play.

Further, scenes in which a larger-than-life Precious Moments Angel (Danny Ryan) pays silent visits to the characters add to the tonal confusion of the piece. One senses the scenes are meant to put a troubling note of strangeness in the air -- they may even be meant to honor the characters' need for emotional closure and for spiritual enrichment -- but the presentation makes them merely awkward and goofy.