Review: JACK & AIDEN at Ground Floor Theatre

Go see this fantastic production that runs through December 16th

By: Dec. 05, 2023
Review: JACK & AIDEN at Ground Floor Theatre

There are productions this reviewer often wishes could be summed up in one sentence. Sentences such as: “Go see it.” “Don’t go see it.” “You may like it, but I didn't like it.” “Three stars, would sorta recommend, so stay home and watch Ted Lasso again instead.” And the dreaded sentence accompanied by a weak smile that many theatre geeks are familiar with, “Well, that was a show.”

With Ground Floor Theatre’s newly commissioned world premiere of the musical JACK & AIDEN, my one sentence is: “Go see this wonderful production, and go see it now.”

Twenty years from now, I predict it’s quite possible that Lane Michael Stanley, a transgender filmmaker, director, and playwright (who wrote the book for JACK & AIDEN) will be a name we can count on as a kind of historian who amplifies and humanizes the marginalized. JACK & AIDEN’s book and lyrics are by Tova Katz, who is a queer, genre bending artist whose work has been recognized as an official selection at The ONE Theatre Festival. She has also received the award for Outstanding Solo Performance in a Musical at the All Out Arts Fresh Fruit Festival in NYC. Her gifts are bold and authentic and promise to leave a long lasting impression as well.

JACK & AIDEN is an accurate and unapologetic depiction of the “hyper-transactional world of gay male hookup apps,” transitioning genders, addiction, and falling in love. But it's true genius lies in successfully telling the universal truth about the excitement, fragility, and complexity of adulting and being in love.

Review: JACK & AIDEN at Ground Floor Theatre

Innocent (ish) Aiden, who is played by the exuberant and practically perfect trans actor Laura Leo Kelly (They/Them), is exploring the hook up scene when he meets a more experienced Jack (played by a courageous, engaging, and charming Justin P. Lopez, He/Him). The two jump on the roller coaster of hooking up, polyamory, and love. Jack’s dealing with an addiction to meth. Aiden is experiencing trauma based in a meaningful relationship he was in before he transitioned. Fill in the blank with your own neurosis and the play is universal. Few of us go unscathed in our first go-round with love.

While this story doesn’t adhere to the “typical” musical wherein love transcends some external force that keeps our heroes from coming together, JACK & AIDEN have authentic and real internal barriers that keep them apart. These barriers are in fact, much more believable than those in the mainstream musicals we typically see. I realize there are some unicorns out there who have few demons to face, but that’s not most of us, and that’s not JACK & AIDEN.

JACK & AIDEN are, despite being a part of gay subculture, wounded — just like the rest of us. This tenuous experience of love makes more sense than the black and white happily ever after our straight culture has led us to believe is the answer to our need for bliss. Life’s more complicated than that. And more juicy. Just like JACK & AIDEN. Nonetheless, writer Lane Michael Stanley and lyricist/composer Tova Katz infuse this complexity with hope. While I won’t give away the ending entirely, JACK & AIDEN get the one they deserve: wiser, more tempered, and more possible than either a tragedy or a comedy can provide.

Review: JACK & AIDEN at Ground Floor Theatre

JACK & AIDEN’s wonderful band, led by Trey Shonkweiler (He/Him) provided a perfect performance of Stanley’s book and music on opening night, and from the start, director Trace Turner(He/They) keeps the pace and staging snappy. Lopez and Kelly have a chemistry that is suited to the apprehension and yearning that JACK & AIDEN experience. This isn’t the fiery, starry eyed love of Orpheus and Eurydice, but the unexpected awakening of two guys who are enjoying sex, both together and with others, until they discover they feel something more for each other. It’s an honesty that is richer than that of star crossed lovers. Aiden’s anxiousness is on hilarious display in the song “New” as is his heartfelt pain in “54321.” Jack’s “Flying” is an honest and frightening testament to the thrills of addiction. Truly, every song in JACK & AIDEN is strong. Clever (and needed) projection credit goes to Patrick Anthony (He/Him), Micah Mabey (They/Them), Zac Crofford (He/Him), and Gary Thornsberry (They/Them) for a collaboration that brings JACK & AIDEN the visual support it deserves. “Artifacts” of Aiden and Jack float in midair, and projection becomes a fluid part of the set while simultaneously maintaining the intimacy of the show and of Ground Floor Theatre. This is truly a beautiful piece of art. 

Ground Floor Theatre’s bold Co-Artistic director Lisa Scheps, who commissioned this work, should be solidly proud of JACK & AIDEN. The cast and crew are superior, the script and music excellent, the direction is seamless. I predict not just local accolades for JACK & AIDEN, but a feasible regional presence for this marvelous show. 

So here we are, 726 words later, with a final two sentences. “Go see this wonderful production, and go see it now.” You’ll be disappointed in the future that you weren’t among those of us singing its praises today.

CONTENT WARNING: As you might have guessed from this review, JACK & AIDEN is recommended for mature audiences over 18. Content includes nudity and adult topics of trauma and addiction. This show is for adults, and for folx who can act like them.

JACK & AIDEN

By Lane Michael Stanley

Music and Lyrics by Tova Katz

Directed by Trace Turner

Ground Floor Theatre

Thursdays-Sundays,

November 30 - December 16, 2023

Ground Floor Theatre

979 Springdale Rd

Austin, TX, 78702

Tickets available here
Tickets for Ground Floor Theatre productions are always Pay What You Can




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