“Jacob and Jack” combines laughs and soul
“Jacob and Jack” is part backstage farce, part Yiddish soul, part time travel and, mixed together, a barrel of fun.
The play by James Sherman (“The God of Isaac,” “Beau Jest”) is set in Chicago in 1935, and then 75 years later in the present, with each of the six characters jumping from one era to another and back.
In the titles role, Bruce Katzman is both the stentorian Yiddish actor Jacob Shemerinsky and his present-day grandson Jack Shore.
Neither incarnation is a marquee name. Jack makes a living doing TV commercials, and when he got a chance to play in “The Diary of Anne Frank,” he recalls, “there were more people in the attic than in the audience.”
What ties the two time zones together is that Jack has been persuaded by his forceful mother to stage a tribute performance for her ladies club, commemorating his grandfather Jacob.
Facilitating the switches between past and present on the small stage of the Zephyr Theatre are five constantly slammed doors connecting the time-traveling characters in their dressing rooms and with the outside world.
Revolving around Jacob/Jack are his long-suffering wife and actress Lisa/Leah (Veronica Alicino), who, with good reason, suspects her husband of infidelities, and charming ingénue Deborah Knox, the object of desire in both the 20th and 21st centuries.
Nan Tapper, who doubles as the mother of both Jack and of the ingénue in different eras, is the no-nonsense Jewish matriarch, who gets her descendants out of their frequent scrapes.
Tepper displays a finely-honed comic edge as well as a grasp of graphic Yiddish, which cannot be printed in a family publication, either in English or in the mamaloshen.
Rounding out the talented cast are Matthew Gottlieb as Jack’s agent and a stage manager, and young Matthew Scott Montgomery, alternating as a novice stage manager and as Moishe/Mickey, a hopeful, Hollywood-bound actor.
Director Lee Sankowich keeps the fast-paced action and the constant character rotations from devolving into bafflement. Adam Hunter gets credit for the ingenious set and Joanna Leskow for the costumes.
Performances of “Jacob and Jack” continue through May 6 at the Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., between Fairfax and La Brea Aves.