Sesaya specializes in music and arts education.
If you want something done well, give it to a child. Clearly Allen MacInnis and Jen Shuber know this, as they’ve cast 2 charming and capable 12-year olds, David G. Black and Drew Davis, in the title role in Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang. And these kids can hold their own, even in front of the formidable (and hilarious) Hooded Fang played by Damien Atkins.
Drew and David are hardly novices. They both played Gavroche last winter in the reimagined Les Misérables, which played sold-out houses at the Princess of Wales Theatre. Both loved the experience, so when the opportunity presented itself to play the title character in this 50th anniversary production of Jacob Two-Two, well…neither could resist. David was drawn because he loved the “super fun” TV show and wanted to interpret the role of Jacob. Drew viewed the role as more of a challenge, and a pragmatic opportunity to expand his musical-theatre experience.
Though just 12, both young actors are required to bring depth to the role. As the youngest child of five, six-year-old Jacob has to repeat everything just to be heard. Arrested ostensibly for mocking an adult, he is banished to a dungeon-like prison on Slimer’s Island, which is shrouded in impenetrable fog and secured by animalistic guards. (Here, Drew is quick to credit some ingenious special effects, including “boats that move on the stage and fog machines and strobe lights and costumes that light up.”) Through his quick thinking, canniness, and insight into human dynamics, Jacob must find a way off . . . for himself and the other child prisoners.
To do this, of course, he must get around the massive and mighty Hooded Fang, whose bluster, spiky hood and wrestling shorts inspire utter terror in those around him. Atkins clearly relishes this role, and he plays it with a dastardly glee: “Oh, I like playing all kinds of people, heroes and villains . . .But being a villain is fun because you get all the great lines. And in this show, I get the best song. In my opinion,” he winks.
And Atkins hopes that the young members of the audience will find the Fang kind of scary. . . at first. “And then, like Jacob, I hope they will see that he is just pretending. He’s just someone who had his feelings hurt and OVERREACTED very, very badly.” This overreaction plays like a nonstop, histrionic tantrum whose manic shouting and stomping is laugh-your-head-off funny to everyone . . . whether on stage or in the audience. It’s a feat of acting prowess that the actors, especially Drew and David, don’t dissolve into a laughing heap whenever the Fang rants. So…how do they stay in character when the actions of other characters are so laughable? Both agree that it’s hard to do. They each have a unique trick to maintain their composure. David’s “trick” is “to put myself in Jacob’s position, and think that he’s very scared to be in the children’s prison.” Drew finds it an especial struggle during the court scene “where everyone is dancing like old grandpas who can’t dance. I have to stand there like I’m super-afraid of them when really, I would be laughing at them.” His “trick” is to think of something that is scary. “Like when I hated some medicine I had to take. It was sooo gross! Sometimes I think of anything tragic or sad that’s happened in my life, and that trick works, too.”
Though an experienced actor, Atkins, too, can find it difficult to maintain a straight face–though in his case, he’s more likely to start laughing at himself. “I sometimes make choices in the moment that seem right, and then halfway through the moment I will realize it is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. I suppose it’s better to laugh than be embarrassed. Yesterday, I forgot to wear my hat for the court room scene. Which would not have been a big deal, except for the fact that EVERYONE ELSE is wearing a hat or some kind of head covering. So I giggled all through the court room scene as the rest of cast noticed my bare head and grimaced.”
Based on the laughter and responses murmured throughout the show, Jacob Two-Two still resonates with modern audiences. Mordecai Richler wrote the novel (inspired by his own son Jacob) 40 years ago, and also wrote the original musical which YPT premiered in 1978. The universal themes it explores — among them emotional frailties, power structures and imbalances, and sibling hierarchies — are still relevant. The veteran Atkins’s advice to his younger co-stars? Focus on what the play means.”Don’t worry about reviews and audience reaction,” he advises. “Worry about your relationship to the deeper themes of the play. What is the play putting out in the world, and how are you a part of that message?
Further advice: “Just keep your head down, and keep working. Talent is probably fictional; hard work is undeniable.”
And one final pithy admonishment: “Save your money.”
Practical! And David reciprocates in kind, as he encourages the adult actors to “get back into a kid’s mind set so that they can relate to Jacob.” And no doubt David’s advice applies equally to adult members of the audience. So when you take in Jacob Two-Two, evoke your inner child. Revel in the silliness. Give in to the fun of this show.
Oh yeah. And when you go home, remember to treat the little people nicely-nicely.
News you Can Use
What: Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang, by Mordecai Richler; co-directed by Allen MacInnis and Jen Shuber; music and lyrics by Britta and Annika Johnson
Who: For audiences ages 5 years & up
Where: Young People’s Theatre, 165 Front Street East, Toronto, ON M5A 3Z4
When: Running until January 3rd, 2016
Why: Read The Quotable Sayak’s review
Tickets and Info: http://www.youngpeoplestheatre.ca/families/show-tickets-info/ and 416.862.2222.
Cool to know: Jacob Two-Two Study Guide for Parents and Teachers
© 2015 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya