Jack and Jill

People's Light & Theatre Company, 39 Conestoga Rd., Malvern, through May 31, (610)644-3500

Sometimes, the material conditions of the medium affect the logic of the events being dramatized. We know, when a planetary landing party from the Starship Enterprise encounters an alien monster in the first few minutes of an episode of Star Trek, that the crew member who gets killed will be the anonymous actor with a single line of dialogue, and not the series regular Captain Kirk.

In life, when one has survived, resentful and wounded, after the collapse of a loving but impossible marriage, one knows (believe me!) that the bleeding wounds will eventually scab over, the wounds will turn to scars and the scars will fade, as one gets on with one's life, increasingly hopeful not only of recovery but of the possibility that one can still (believe me!) find a life-companion, presumably someone other than the person one had been involved with before.

But a different logic pertains if the divorce occurs at the end of the first act of a two-character play. Just as sure as you are that Captain Kirk won't be zapped, you can be quite certain that this won't be a play about ex-spouses moving on to other partners, but about the exes continuing to try to work out the myriad complications of their relationship again and again, even after they've moved on to different professions, different lifestyles and different coasts.

Jane Martin (the pseudonymous author of Talking With and Keely and Du) shows us the relationship of the title characters in Jack and Jill in a series of short discontinuous scenes, from the moment Jack (Paul Meshejian) picks up Jill (Kathryn Petersen) in a public library, to their first sexual encounter (no penetration, but with condoms - go figure), cohabitation, marriage, quarrels (about careers, children, coasts), and divorce, all before the intermission. Jack, nice ("nice" is his "specialty"), but unable to say what he is really feeling, wants connection. Jill, desirous but uncertain about love ("I love you, or something"), wants autonomy ("I want to be in sync with you, but I don't want to lose myself in you"). Jack wants to be supportive. Jill just wants to be angry ("I don't want to be interpreted … I don't need to be placated; I just want to break dishes").

Surrounded by the shards of their marriage (and, literally, by the shards of all those dishes she's just broken), they divide their belongings, lick their wounds and move on. Or not. In the second act, after two years of autonomy, they've moved on but they haven't, they've changed but they haven't, they've gotten over one another but they haven't. That they're both older and wiser hardly makes it easier; it certainly makes it all much harder to watch.

What makes it even possible to watch is that the writing is so swift, natural, colorful and true, and that the acting is so true to life and to character: Meshejian is true to Jack's niceness and Petersen to Jill's anger, without either of them being narrowly defined by niceness or by anger; life, character and the play are all more complicated than that. And Ken Marini's directing is clean, economical and relentlessly unsentimental.

"Keeping a relationship going between two people," one of them explains late in the play, "that's a grown-up's job." The playwright, the director and the two actors thankfully do their jobs so expertly in order to show us how poorly Jack and Jill do theirs.

-Cary M. Mazer