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BWW Reviews: JACOB'S LADDER Delivers an Important Message With Wit, Style and Panache

Jacob's Ladder is described in the Book of Genesis as a staircase to heaven that the biblical Patriarch Jacob dreamed about during his flight from his brother Esau. It is often used as an analogy for the spiritual ascetic of life. JACOB'S LADDER, a new play by Dennis Bailey & David Mixner, now in its World Première staging by Theatre en Bloc, tells the story of a hero, also named Jacob, who's not born but cornered as he wrestles with the idea that all evil needs to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

There is a lot to like in Bailey & Mixner's new play, based on a true story, and in the current production directed by Derek Kolluri. JACOB'S LADDER is a solid original script that uses wit and 1940s panache to give us six well developed characters. While it is not new ground, it is a new perspective that mines details that an audience may never have known or even considered.

The story is set in 1944 at the height of World War II. Jacob (Zach Kleinsmith) is a young Jewish staffer to FDR when he discovers a Top Secret proposal to bomb the Concentration Camps of Hitler in Eastern Europe. What ensues is a controversial debate over the perception of morality, accountability and assimilation and how this proposal will profoundly alter his family and the world around him. Jacob must choose between standing up for himself, his people, and his principles or allow politics to make him an accessory to a potentially horrific plan. We, as an audience, are treated to a fresh look at the collision of patriotism and culture.

This is an incredibly strong cast supported by an equally strong technical team. Zach Kleinsmith gives a riveting performance as Jacob, a man buffeted by circumstance who finds the inner strength to stand up and refuse to be silent. Jenny Lavery, as Sara, is a strong counterpoint to Jacob, as his life partner who wants it all. Babs George, as his mother Esther, is wonderful and is particularly effective in a monologue about the horrors she witnessed as a child. Jay Fraley (as Welles) and Tom Byrne (as Morgenthau) are both excellent in smaller roles; however, it is Johanna Whitmore as the President's secretary, Patsy, who delivers the strongest and most memorable performance. There have been a lot of characters like this one, but Whitmore's delivery, presence and timing make this a new creation all her own and what a glorious creation it is.

I am again impressed with Derek Kolluri's direction. JACOB'S LADDER is a high concept staging with a minimal set and Kolluri keeps the evening moving, leaving strong visual images that linger long after the play has ended. The scenic design by Leslie Turner is clean, efficient and perfectly evokes the 40's and when combined with the atmospheric lighting design of Steven Shirey, delivers multiple locales that are clearly depicted both effectively and with staged economy. Also worth noting are the costuming of Jenny Hanna-Chambers and the sound design of Blake Addyson.

If you enjoy historical drama told with wit and style, you can't go wrong with this current Theatre en Bloc production.

JACOB'S LADDER by Dennis Bailey & David Mixner

Running time: Two hours and 15 minutes with one intermission.

JACOB'S LADDER, produced by Theatre en Bloc at The Boyd Vance Theater in The Carver Center (1165 Angelina Street, Austin, TX 78702.) March 27 - April 19, 2015. Thursdays through Sunday, 8:00 pm. Tickets are $15 - 40. Monday April 13 is Industry Nights.

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From This Author - Frank Benge

A Kansas native, Frank Benge has been involved in the Austin area theatre scene as a Director, Designer, Writer and Performer for the past 20 years. He holds a double BA in Theatre and English from... (read more about this author)