Paula Lindekugel-Willis was looking to direct a comedy for the winter main stage production at Minot State University when Dean Conrad Davidson gave her Neil Simon's "Jake's Women" to read.
The show, being presented this weekend at the Aleshire Theater, is among the darker of the 38 plays Simon has written, with Jake often breaking the "fourth wall" to speak directly to the audience.
The story is semi-autobiographical and concerns a 53-year-old writer whose second wife is leaving him because she needs to "find herself" and Jake needs to deal with living with his first (deceased) wife, Julie. The play is set in Jake's memory, reality in the present time and fantasy.
Terry J. Aman/MDN - - Jake, played by Daniel Johnson, seated, is toasted by all the women in his life, past, present and fantasy.
"In the first act, mostly it's his creations of dialogue between the various women in his life, and by the end (of the act) we become well aware that Jake has lost control on several levels," Lindekugel-Willis said. "The second act becomes in some ways the resolution of Jake's relationship with his sister, therapist, daughter, deceased wife, current wife and himself."
Jake is played by veteran MSU actor Daniel Johnson, his wife Maggie by Jillian Bechtold and his dead wife Julie by Jenny Castro. Penny Lipsey plays his sister, Tiffany Tooley his therapist and Kelsey MacNaughton plays his current girlfriend.
Jake's daughter is seen at two ages, with the 12-year-old Molly played by Khristy Anderson and Molly at 21 by Brittany Armstrong.
"This cast is to be commended," Lindekugel-Willis said. "The audience will see people on stage that they have not seen before or who have not been given a role of this size. Khristy is an MSU freshman, and just a bubble. She has wonderful energy, which was commented on by the adjudicators at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in January."
She went with Brett Olson, who along with Johnson, Armstrong and Peg Morris all reached the semi-finals for the Irene Ryan award. "Brett made it to the finals, with Khristy as his partner," Lindekugel-Willis said. "This production is also being adjudicated by regional judges, who select promising individuals in the cast and crews over the course of the year to go to the next KCACTF."
"Jake's Women" is recommended for mature audiences because of the language used. "It's mostly Jake, and I don't think it's gratuitous," Lindekugel-Willis said. "It's when he gets angry and frustrated. You can hear Simon's voice, but in a more serious vein. It's a very personal script, funny, but not broadly humorous like 'The Odd Couple.' He wrote it in the early '90s, after his first wife had died and he was in his second marriage to his third wife."
Simon married Joan Baim, then Marsha Mason, then Diane Lander, who he divorced in 1988 and remarried in 1990. The scope of the play is from 1962 to 1991, and sometimes the women are his memories of them, and sometimes really present, including the deceased Julie, a surreal stream-of-consciousness.
"Jake's Women" runs today through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Cost is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and students and free for faculty, staff and students of MSU with current ID. Reservations may be made by calling 858-3172.