MAP Underground, the 14 Karat Cabaret performance space in the basement of the Bromo Arts District’s Maryland Art Place, was the perfect venue to meet “philosopher clown,” Jack Golden. Before taking the stage to present You Don’t Know Jack, the one-person show he wrote and was performing at the fringe, Golden took a few minutes to greet the audience, sitting and chatting with the couples and trios at the intimate venue’s small tables.
Far from sizing everyone up for some nefarious “audience participation” embarrassment, Golden seemed genuinely interested in making a connection with the folks who took an hour out of their Friday night to see a show he’s poured his heart into. That earnestness was evident in each of the 10 pieces that make up You Don’t Know Jack.
At the top of the show, Golden quips that we don’t know Jack, but we shouldn’t feel bad; he barely knows him himself. While clever, I’m not sure it’s entirely true. This show is clearly the result of more than a casual amount of self-awareness and introspection. Golden shares that when he was in his early 50s, he suffered what he calls the Season of Death – the loss of his “mother, brother, sister, best friend, best dog and teacher.” He reflects on some of these relationships in the show.
You Don’t Know Jack is Golden’s memoir, an autobiography presented like a scrapbook, each monologue or movement piece, a page telling a story. He talks about his brother, Larry, who – while trying to cheer him up when he’d get in trouble with their dad – became the first clown he ever met. He recounts conversations with his mom, the affectionately nicknamed Mouchie, that are rapid-fire battles of wit. He tells stories about creative couture on the golf course and how he found the best barbecue in Texas. Golden recites poetry, does magic, clowning, juggling, mime and freestyle dance. He does an impressive, completely improvised stream-of-consciousness monologue/movement piece; he pays bittersweet homage to his departed mentor and best friend, Matt Leighton; and – my favorite – he tugs at heartstrings as he channels man’s best friend, accompanied by a recorded recitation of Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Dog (a reworked version of Wallace Stevens’ Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.)
Golden effectively conveys all his stories, but in his spoken vignettes – some silly, some sentimental – his transitional banter seems a bit rehearsed. In the wholly-improvisational portion of the show, he demonstrates acumen for thinking on his feet, so I suspect he could remedy this small issue by leaving those bits unscripted. Where Golden shines the brightest is physical theater. His mastery over his movement, both across the stage and in his gestures and expressions, is impressive. And his clowning skills are impeccable.
You Don’t Know Jack is a very personal performance piece, reflecting on Golden’s life and relationships through words, music and movement. It’s refreshing to see a work based on the real life of the performer that refuses to shy away from the vulnerability attendant to such an endeavor. Rather than covering any discomfort with sarcasm, cynicism, or any of the other shields we use when we feel exposed, Golden goes with the truth. He admits the unscripted, improvisational component of the show scares him; he owns his feelings about family and loss. The result is a refreshingly honest, unironic look at the life of a kind man who has spent the last few decades touring the country, educating kids, making folks smile, and getting to know Jack better.
Running Time: 55 minutes, with no intermission.
You Don’t Know Jack played November 8-11, 2017, at the 14K Cabaret at Maryland Art Place – 218 West Saratoga Street, in Baltimore, MD. For more information on the Charm City Fringe Festival, check them out online.
Baltimore’s historic Lexington Market is joining DC Theater Arts in support of our coverage of the Charm City Fringe Festival. The Market closes at 6 PM on weekdays and is closed Sundays, but we recommend that Fringe-goers stop by on Saturday to grab lunch and take a look around, in addition to checking out the local bands which play from 12:00 PM to 2:00 PM.