Jacques and his Master | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Jacques and his Master


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Jacques and his Master, TinFish Theater. The old free will vs. determinism debate gets resolved fairly neatly in Milan Kundera's three-act adaptation of Diderot's Jacques the Fatalist and His Master. The Czech author (The Unbearable Lightness of Being) posits here that one can exercise free will but the results still fall into repeating patterns whose outcomes are determined largely by class, which also figures into whose story gets told and how. The familiar wise yet insolent servant, his master, and a bawdy innkeeper tell parallel tales of sexual conquest and cuckoldry, suggesting Les liaisons dangereuses viewed through the twin lenses of class consciousness and existentialism. Though the stories' painstaking schematicism dictates that they will succeed more as lesson than drama, Kundera does manage--as he has in his fiction--to address difficult philosophical issues simply and accessibly.

TinFish's tennis-match production--the action is set on two bare platforms a good distance apart--is a mite challenging to the neck muscles, but Dejan Avramovich's uncluttered, well-paced staging presents the play's conflicts clearly if perhaps simplistically. With a couple of exceptions, however--most notably Vincent Lonergan's sympathetic, nuanced portrayal of Jacques' master--the performances are too declamatory, too broadly self-parodistic, to register as anything more than representations of types. Avramovich and TinFish have erred on the side of accessibility, creating a production that's ultimately more didactic than entertaining.

--Adam Langer

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