Writer: Melissa Center
Director: Michelle Bossy
Music: Jamie Buxton
Lyrics: Melissa Center
Bright, witty and unapologetically frank, Melissa Center’s one-woman show Marrying Jake Gyllenhaal merges autobiography with comedy.
Directed by Michelle Bossy, this online show uses video and live performance to recreate events from Melissa’s personal life. Center joins us from her apartment, where most of the play will be set. Center’s Mum rings, using her weekly check-up call to see what’s new and happening in her daughter’s life. Melissa is an actor and film-maker ten years out of college. She’s found success, would like more. It’s August 2015, and her Mum is phoning to see if her daughter has received the newspaper clipping she’s sent in the post. The headline reads “Jake Gyllenhaal Still Not Married”. He’s half-Jewish, single, he works in the same industry as her daughter – Melissa’s mother needs no further encouragement.
Despite her initial incredulity, Melissa then takes us on a journey through the close calls she has in nearly meeting Gyllenhaal. She has worked with Annaleigh Ashford (Gyllenhaal’s co-star in the musical Sunday in the Park with George), and as the show flips back and forth through Melissa’s life, we learn that Melissa, in her entrance song for college, chose to play Dot from Sunday in the Park with George – the same role played by Ashford. There are so many of these coincidences, that we and Melissa begin to wonder if her Mum may have a point. Is Melissa really destined to marry Jake?
Using a monologue scripted by Center and original music from Jamie Buxton, Marrying Jake Gyllenhaal goes deeper into the events of the past six years. Failed relationships, experiments with dating apps that yield varying results. Center takes a forensic look at the dating minefield: humour punctures the darker moments, but we are still left with an impression that finding a connection, any connection, can be very much hit or miss.
It is this sense of emotional transience – missed opportunities and red flags – that comes to define the show. Center is not afraid to be vulnerable with us. The camera leans in carefully, resting in close-up, as Melissa picks apart the experiences she has had as a single woman. In fact, the entire show feels incredibly intimate. Center’s performance – her interaction with us – feels like a series of confessions being revealed. Center is charismatic and intuitive, moving from broader swathes of comedy, into a satiric focus on the expectations placed on women. As she edges ever closer to Gyllenhaal, the crisis that emerges – love, career, marriage – asks the inevitable question. What does Center really want?
With Marrying Jake Gyllenhaal it is spontaneity – in the writing, the presentation – that comes to characterise this production. While the show shifts in tone between reality and fantasy, Center handles her material smartly, giving herself enough room to manoeuvre through moments of introspection and thoughts on the impact of celebrity culture. Unfailingly honest and beautifully balanced, Marrying Jake Gyllenhaal is a funny and sharply-observed journey of self-discovery.
Available online from: 6 August 2021 | Image: Contributed