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An Up-the-Hill Battle

Jack and Jill asks whether a woman can find love without losing herself

With no sexual fire between the actors, the play slowly unfurls into a diatribe about male/female relationships in the wake of feminism. Jack and Jill, in this production, don't appear to love each other much at all -- not nearly enough to sustain the haranguing and endless out-loud thinking they engage in. When they fight, they occasionally raise their voices. When they kiss, they are careful not to get too gooey. Even when breaking plates in a rage, Hope's Jill tosses dishes in a limp-wristed, bored-to-tears way that is confounding and frustrating to watch. It's all very civilized, yes. But throwing plates is a rageful act, a passionate act, the act of a woman who can decide on the spur of the moment to run off to Prague (which Jill does). None of that skin-tingling, heartbreaking love makes it to the stage.

And palpable love is essential to this story about a couple trying to communicate in a world awash with gender politics jargon. Indeed, the struggle to find a language with which to talk about love in light of '90s feminism is at the heart of Martin's play. Jack and Jill often speak in incomplete and fractured sentences, talking over each other and against each other in a pastiche of failed communication. The play examines the possibility that feminist jargon has become more than meaningless, that it's become hurtful to women and the men they love. On stage, if Jack and Jill seem to love one another, their pain might make their love woe worthy of its literary parentage. After all, Nora Helmer, Anna Karenina and even naughty Isadora are all, like Jill, privileged women, who have often been accused of spoiled and childish behavior. But there's a crucial difference: When those ladies throw a plate, everyone knows to duck.

Jack and Jill plays through October 12 at Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway, 527-0220.

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