‘Jigsaw’ instills humor within its Ypsilanti audience

Petie the Dog (PTD) Productions’ presentation of the play “Jigsaw” is lively and lighthearted. The play was written by Dawn Powell in 1934, but has not enjoyed much popularity over the years. The Midwest premier run took place at Ypsilanti’s Riverside Arts Center, 76 N Huron St., on Dec. 5 and is running through Dec. 14.

Set in the New York City of the 1930s, the first act sets up the lives and quirks of the residents.
From the acerbic comments of the saucy Letty Walters to the over-the-top flighty nature of Claire Burnell, a New York divorcée nearing 40, characters in “Jigsaw” are animated and quick-witted. Del Marsh, a married man who stays with Claire when he’s in town, is smart and bossy, while Claire’s new beau, a younger man named Nate Gifford, is awkward. Several others, like the bawdy Frank
Mason and put-upon maid Rosa, flit in and out of the narrative.

When Claire’s daughter, Julie, arrives, drama arrives too. It turns out that Julie, despite being a mere slip of a schoolgirl at 16, saw Nate Gifford first, and is ready to battle her mother to get what she wants: marriage.

For the most part, PTD’s production of “Jigsaw” is exactly what one would expect from community theater. There’s a mixture of people taking time out of their lives to make a little theater come to life. Some are really great, and the casting was spot-on. Adam Weakley as Del Marsh and Rachel
Robbins Toon as Letty Walters both had a particularly blasé attitude down, as expected for jaded New Yorkers. Mark Batell as Frank Mason and Carla Margolis as Mrs. Finch, a late-comer in the third act, both highlight the comedic nature of their characters.

Definitely the least believable character, though not without his merits, was Morgan Brown as Nate Gifford. While his lines declaimed him as a debauched, immoral and depraved, his actions painted him as submissive and unimpassioned. His lines tended to be not inflected as well. Not exactly the kind of man to inspire a catfight between a mother and a daughter.

For the most part though, the cast came together quite nicely, and between physical comedy, narrative drama and character portrayals, the audience was drawn into the outcome of the play. The cast also drew laughs throughout the play.

The biggest weakness was perhaps not in the performances themselves, but rather in the structure of the play. Written in three acts, there is an unbalance between the first act and the latter two acts.
In the first act, time is spent creating the atmosphere of this hotel, where marriages mean little, characters are quirky and time is spent dallying about on whatever it pleases. The second two acts are most focused on the pursuit of Nate Gifford by both Claire and Julie Burnell. While very funny, a lot of the character development that begins to take place in the first act falls out of view.

Despite these flaws, the performance was highly enjoyable. Jolly, amusing and bubbly, it was a lovely evening out in Ypsilanti.

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