In Jack Goes Boating, the four character romantic comedy by Bob Glaudini, Philip Seymour Hoffman fills the title role, a simple-minded burnout with nascent dreadlocks and a heart of gold who gets his first date in years thanks to Clyde (John Ortiz), his buddy and fellow limo driver. The lucky lady in question, Connie (Beth Cole), is the friend and co-worker of Clyde’s live-in girlfriend Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega). She’s also the perfect match for Jack, for she’s just as romantically awkward and insecure as her reggae-loving suitor.
In a conventional romantic comedy, you can count on some formidable obstacles to stand in the way of the lovers’ courtship. But Jack Goes Boating is remarkably unconventional in its lack of crossed stars: the story amounts to "stoner boy meets girl and gets her with pretty much no problemo". Sure, things happen in the play, (Connie is assaulted on the subway, Clyde stresses over Lucy’s pattern of infidelity) but nothing to threaten the new lovers’ budding bliss.
When Jack learns that no man has ever cooked for Connie, he vows to be her culinary hero, despite the fact that he can't cook and lives in his uncle’s basement with just a hot plate. The play’s central “crisis” unfolds during his dinner party at Clyde and Lucy’s apartment – a scene that’s as amusing as it is predictable. Though there’s a lot riding on this dinner in Jack’s anxious mind, it’s clear to everyone involved, especially the audience, that Connie is already smitten. Dinner, of course, is ruined, but Jack learns a powerful lesson: nothing can stop true love, not even a charred casserole.
That Jack Goes Boating manages to stay afloat at all is mainly due to the water-bailing talents of Hoffman and Ortiz. Hoffman has always been one of those actors I would gladly watch reciting the phone book; he’s as engaging as ever here. And because his history with the rest of the cast – all members of the Labyrinth Theater Company – goes way back, there’s a pleasant camaraderie in this ensemble that, in the play’s best scenes, plugs the hole where the plot should be.
Near the beginning of Jack Goes Boating, Jack and Connie make a deal to paddle around a lake once summer comes. (Since Jack doesn’t know how to swim, he begins taking lessons from Clyde – the result is a series of pointless pool scenes that are the narrative equivalent of treading water in the shallow end.) In a final coda, Jack finally has his titular boating date with Connie; it’s just too bad that the play itself stays tethered to the dock. Mercifully, there are enough laughs in this two-hour tour with Hoffman & Co. to keep it from capsizing.
Jack Goes Boating continues through April 29th at the Public Theater [425 Lafayette St]. Tickets cost $65. (Photo by Monique Carboni.)