The Streaming Experience: The New Group’s Virtual Reading of The Jacksonian
“I heard, different things, on different occasions over periods of time,” she says most wisely, about what may or may not be happening in and around The Jacksonian, a low-end motel in Jackson, Mississippi, 1964 on the night of a murder. It comes midway through, but the idea could be said much earlier on about this fantastically fun and entertaining virtual reading. It’s quite the wild ride that we find ourselves ushered into, thanks to the star-powered voltage on display at this Reunion Reading event, raising money for Race Forward and the strongly focused and much loved The New Group. The company is simply one of NYC’s foremost off-Broadway theater companies that is, most likely, struggling to survive this isolated pandemic ride we are all trying hard not to fall off of. The company has wisely found the initiative to gather together this impeccably talented cast; the original line-up minus one sad omission, from that time when Beth Henley’s The Jacksonian first made its appearance at The Pershing Square Signature Center in the fall of 2013 (directed by Robert Falls), to serve up to us thirsty souls. This virtual Off-Stage reading of that phenomenally engaging and dark play is a strong sharp cocktail, filled to the brim with whip-smart dialogue and sorted dark undercurrents, stirred, not shaken most vibrantly with this stellar cast and a play worthy of our isolated time and energy,
Chloroform, inhaled with a bit of whiskey and a thick slice of racism on the rim, gives this piece of virtual theatre its wild wreckless flavor and air. And with Ed Harris (Broadway’s To Kill a Mockingbird) as the kicked-out troubled dentist, Bill Perch who is seeking asylum and refuge at the seedy Jacksonian Motel, the energy of this starry event is palpable, even through the overly used lens of a Zoomed-in meeting-style reading. His spiral is decadently profound and edged forward with precision by his tense now-estranged wife, Susan, played beautifully by Amy Madigan (The New Group’s Good for Otto) and his desperate teenage daughter, Rosy, solidly portrayed by Juliet Brett (RTC’s Napoli, Brooklyn). Out in the lounge, a dangerously slick bartender, Fred, dynamically played by the always interesting Bill Pullman (West End’s All My Sons) finds treachery in his handling and prodding of the desperately engaging Eva White.
The part of Eva was originally portrayed on stage in 2013 at the Geffen Playhouse and at The New Group by Glenne Headly, who sadly passed away in 2017, but we are graced with her glorious presence in photo stills from the 2013 New Group production interspersed throughout the benefit Reunion Reading. And even though the seductive gold-digging motel employee was initially to be played by the magnificent Jane Krakowski, the part found its way, with wild abandonment, into the arms of the ever-intriguing Carol Kane (Encores’ Call Me Madam, Broadway’s Wicked) who always manages to deliver the goods, and the change of sheets, in the most deliciously quirky and amazing manner like no one else on this planet can. Had the wonderfully wicked Eva gotten her marriage wish, she might have had another chance to proclaim, “I’m not a witch, I’m your wife,” but a well-told lie and a willful night of debauchery changed all that for everyone involved. I only can wish I had had the opportunity to see this production live seven years ago, I might also have lost my mind, but for a whole bunch of different reasons.
Revolving around the night of a bloody and dark murder, the virtual reading of Hedley’s The Jacksonian, intoxicates, overflowing the edges of the rocks glass with suspense and dark humor. The benefit reading finds fun and unexpected flavor in a process that I must admit I’m getting a bit worn out by, the Zoom rectangular reading, but the energy and the determination of this glorious cast find the perfect aroma of a kind of dark madness that this greedy and racist town is riddled and asphyxiated by. The clever and engaging benefit Reunion Reading is worthy of its place on the bar, right next to that imported bottle of fine flavored whiskey. So order up a glass of The Jacksonian‘s finest, a ticket is only $25, just don’t forget to head down the hall with your bucket and scoop up some ice. Just make sure you wipe the blood off your hands first.
Each of the live readings from The New Group’s Reunion Reading Series is paired with a local initiative working to support New Yorkers. For the reading of The Jacksonian, 10 percent of the proceeds will benefit Race Forward, which catalyzes movement building for racial justice.
The reading is available to watch on-demand until August 30 at 11:59 PM ET. Tickets are available at $10 for the first 100 tickets and $25 for all remaining tickets at TheNewGroup.org.