In 1975 JACK, OR THE SUBMISSION played at New York’s Direct Theatre. In this play by Ionesco, James Morrison played Jack.

An absurdist study of a wildly dysfunctional family in the Never Never Land of playwright Ionesco’s unfettered imagination. Ionesco’s eccentric Jack family, exaggerated and preposterous, might be called the mother of all dysfams. Mother Jack is the mother of all Terrible Mothers. She is so terrible she doesn’t think to ask where she went wrong; she blames it all on Jack.

There’s blame enough to go around. Members of the Jack family totter from behind sliding doors that seal off the ordinary world. Father Jack is an ineffectual, blustering tyrant in ragged, spotted velvet knee breeches and coachman’s hat who depiltates his legs with giant tongs as he angrily denounces his son as unworthy of his ancestors.

Sister Jacqueline is an overage teenager with one sequin-sparkled eye and one whitened one -- her middy blouse, kneesocks and hair ribbons proclaim her an eternal schoolgirl.

Grandfather Jack is doddering on the verge of collapse until he reveals his true nature. Gramps is a singing, dancing, blooming vaudevillian. Expressions of consternation escalate to agony as they all plead for Jack ("So stubborn!") to emerge from the chrysalis, or caul, of curtains where he silently sequesters himself.

With the perpetually petulant and aggrieved look of an anguished adolescent, or brat, Jack sits unmoved -- until at last he utters the magic words, "I adore hashed brown potatoes!" What rejoicing ensues!

Now the Roberts may enter. Father Roberts enters with his mate, who first snorts like a pig then coos like a dove. They present their only daughter, Roberta, "a pig in a poke," as a candidate to become Jack’s fiancée. She enters, a small veiled vision of bridal loveliness -- a hopeful sight, until she removes her veil and we see she has two noses. Jack demands a fiancée with three.

Roberta leaves and returns as the Roberts’ "second only daughter," this time she has three noses. Finally left alone with Jack this Roberta woos him resourcefully, and she wins him over with a tale of flaming stallions and word games inspired by the protective cap of cat fur Jack wears to protect his brain from harmful influences. Everything that needs to be said can be said with one word: cat. Catamaran, catacomb, catechism, cataclysm, and so forth.

Jack is enchanted.

Absurdist, nonsensical, meaningful as you please, Jack’s Submission is difficult, a bit overlong, and it ends in a rather terrifying rite of primitive celebration with Jack as a sacrificial victim and Roberta now seated in the chrysalis.

Synopsized from a review by Polly Warfield for Drama-Logue (but, notably, not of the Direct Theatre production).


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