Review: Jarrott Productions' The Pact

This new, locally sourced play cleverly covers its dark comedy center with a thick sitcom coating

(l-r) Jennifer Jennings as Susan, Natalie D. Garcia as Nancy, Lisa Scheps as Carol, and Hannah Schochler as Keira inThe Pact (Photo by Steve Rogers Photography)

"Life's a piece of shit
When you look at it
Life's a laugh and death's a joke, it's true
You'll see it's all a show
Keep 'em laughin' as you go
Just remember that the last laugh is on you"

There is no better example of dark comedy than the song "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." This little ditty is sung by Monty Python's Eric Idle at the end of the film Life of Brian, while people who have been crucified during the Roman occupation of Judea bop their heads and tap their feet in time to the music. And so, it seamlessly blends rather silly stuff with damn serious subject matter to make a point.

Max Langert's one-act The Pact is most certainly a dark comedy. But the local playwright, in cahoots with director Will Gibson Douglas, doesn't so much blend the silly with the serious as disguise the work's weighty nature by burying it in minutia. Even the show's promotional materials state that this play, which is receiving its premiere production at the Vortex, is about "family, pizza, climate change, dating apps, and fringe religious sects." But that is not the stuff likely to be selected for Jarrott Productions' first collaboration with Langert and its first staging following a 2½-year COVID coma. No, the tingling of one's Spidey senses suggests that there is much more to the play than this. That, and the title mentions a pact.

As the play opens, Glenn (David R. Jarrott) and Carol (Lisa Scheps) worry about a sobering, life-altering decision they have made – a sacrifice, we are told, that will better the planet and improve the quality of life for those who populate it. And they desperately need to share it with their neurotic, adult daughters, Nancy (Natalie D. Garcia) and Susan (Jennifer Jennings), and 23-year-old granddaughter, Keira (Hannah Schochler). The scene and those that immediately follow have all the makings of a standard sitcom, as the fam gathers around the dining room table and engages in very funny banter loaded with witty one-liners about things of no importance and which painstakingly dance around the as-yet-unspoken disclosure. The characters are one-dimensional and easily defined by a single, simple sentence, and the actors deliver their lines accordingly. The staging plays to the audience and frequently lapses into moments of sheer slapstick.

But all this takes place in a black box performance space that is intentionally sans scenic design. And Alison Lewis' lighting is strangely subdued and refracts off the haze in the air to create an omnipresent dreaminess to the proceedings. And there are strange dramatic pauses in the script without purpose or payoff as well as oddly ill-fitting moments, such as when Glenn and Carol abruptly sneak off in the middle of the family discussion to make love to the accompaniment of a squeaky mattress and banging headboards, courtesy of sound designer Craig Brock. It's enough to start doubting that tingling Spidey sense and wonder whether you have, indeed, walked into a lesser comedy.

And then the wheels come off, as the players expertly reveal all that dark comedy that has been lying in wait. And it is well worth waiting for, for the method to this madness calls attention to how we are failing to address global warming and other environmental issues by concerning ourselves with pizza, dating apps, and fringe religious sects.

The Pact is fun and then becomes formidable, which is exactly what one hopes for from Jarrott Productions as it finally reopens its doors for business.

Jarrott Productions’ The Pact

The Vortex, 2307 Manor Rd.
Through Oct. 15
Running time: 1 hr., 18 mins.

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Jarrott Productions, The Pact, Max Langert, Will Gibson Douglas, Lisa Scheps, David R. Jarrott, Natalie D. Garcia, Hannah Schochler, Jennifer Jennings

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