Middle-aged hippie housewife and Beatles’ fan Anna (Deborah Offner) is at the center of her dysfunctional family as she tests her Catholic faith and battles with the “awful monkey in [her] head” during the days before Christmas. The “monkey” is actually a belittling teenage version of herself as Anna 2 (Catherine Dupont), who recalls Anna’s past abortion and drug use. Her Jewish atheist husband Henry (Larry Cahn) suffers from dementia and sleeps his days away on the couch as their adopted 18-year-old son Jude (Adam Weppler) smokes marijuana and seeks his own identity.
Playwright Nancy Manocherian explores how this family struggles with loss, identity and being incomplete with the past. Anna “had to pay for [her] father’s suicide” because of her abortion and Henry stopped “being a Jew” when he was bullied as a boy. Jude never met his biological Romanian mother and believes the “cockroach will survive, but [humans are] on a path of entropy.” Even when Anna is confronted with a life-altering situation, her denial does not allow her to take responsibility for her actions. Hey Jude attempts to venture beyond a psychological inquiry into socially impaired family dynamics and leaves the audience craving closure with these characters.
Jude’s challenge to grasp his father’s dementia is authentically performed by Weppler. The dynamics between Jude and his retired father reminded me of my younger cousin who struggled to make sense of his father’s multiple sclerosis. Jude is so eager to understand Henry, but he cannot relate because Jude has never had dementia. Jude does his best to care for his father and wants to bond by attending sporting events together. Henry brings comic relief by wearing an adult diaper on his head and then later returns wearing Anna’s church hat. Even though Henry’s dementia is the elephant in the room, Anna’s lunacy does not give Henry the space to develop as a character. Also, instead of being an insanity trigger for Anna, Anna 2 could be a stronger antagonist for Dupont to portray. Offner effectively conveys her character's extreme complexities and subtle need to control everyone in her life. Director Kira Simring has the challenge of creating sufficient room for all of these characters to breath so they are not overshadowed by Anna’s mental illness. Hey Jude could be mistaken for Hey Anna.
The set design by Peiyi Wong increases this production’s value with an ideal living room outside of New York City in 2007. The light colored walls, shelves, curtains and hardwood floors allow for the decorated Christmas tree to instantly set the holiday tone. Finding Henry asleep on the plush, brown sofa and holding a pillow with the television on is like standing in a neighbor’s living room. This home is a natural representation of many modern households in America. However, the missing wall next to the xylophone is a distracting black hole and when the actors point at cockroaches there are none to be seen. The morning light in the windows by lighting designer Gertjan Houben adds to the ethereal feeling that the audience is waking up with this family, and we get to see how Henry starts his day.
For audience members who did not grow up listening to the Beatles, they might not relate to the Beatles’ nostalgia that Anna shares, or the era that she experienced as a young woman. The generational contrast can be felt when Jude says, “There’s never anything to eat in this house. Unless you’re a vegetarian, and Paul McCartney doesn’t live here.” Likewise, when Henry refers to the song “Rumania, Rumania,” some might not get the cultural reference or know of Yiddish jazz singers, The Barry Sisters, who were popular during the 1950s. Lastly, when Anna sings her version of Shirley Ellis’ “The Clapping Song” from 1965, some might not recognize the original lyrics. If you are not familiar with these songs, they are worth listening to online and reading the lyrics for their stories.
Hey Jude falls short of conveying a clear message and allows a general audience to draw their own conclusions. It is like driving past a fight on the side of the road and later wondering if the police or an ambulance ever came to take anyone to the hospital. We want to know if these characters ever find any peace or if they just continue to cope with their circumstances. The value is seeing aspects of our own family members in these performances. Hey Jude is recommended for those who are not so concerned about a resolution and are entertained by watching a modern family struggle.
Hey Jude runs until June 21 at Urban Stages (259 West 30th St. between 7th and 8th Aves.) in Manhattan. Evening performances are Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m., and matinee performances are Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $45 and can be purchased by visiting thecelltheatre.org or by calling Brown Paper Tickets at 800-838-3006.