Jake Bullock has lived through the Civil War, survived the stock market crash of 1929 and observed the birth of the Internet. Born in 1796, his life spans centuries, but he stopped physically aging in his thirties. He doesn't know how it happened, but it's allowed him to witness most of our nation's history. He recounts his story in Choosing A Hat Productions' Ancient Jake, recently presented at The Fortress of Lushington in Faubourg Marigny.
James Patrick is an engaging and likable actor, and as Jake, he sits in an armchair and talks directly to the audience in an easy manner. Jake has lived a nomadic lifestyle, finding work in big Northern cities and small Southern towns. He meanders through nearly two centuries of occupations including bus driver, bartender and stints in the military as well as time in prison for accidentally urinating on the president of Princeton University.
Mason Joiner's show draws from historical and personal drama. Jake talks about landmark historical events and has seen all his friends die. He's had to restart his life several times to keep people from realizing he doesn't age. But Jake doesn't have many strong opinions and is frequently unfazed by the events he recounts.
Solo shows and monologue pieces — especially when the actor doesn't play different characters — require the performer to vary the narrative's energy to hold the audience's attention. Ancient Jake takes great care to acknowledge certain historic events, but the commentary should have been pushed further. If Jake had more fire in his opinions or seemed to change over time, the 80-minute show would have felt more urgent.
A floor lamp provides the main source of light and Jake mostly stays seated. There's a small stereo on a table and Jake sings snippets to make transitions or punctuate his stories. The bare set reflects how Jake lives his life.
One of the most engaging anecdotes is Jake's love affair with a woman nicknamed Pete. He met her during Prohibition, and the two lived together. Pete is one of a few people he told about his extended life, but she didn't believe him at first. This love story sounds like a Nicholas Sparks novel (Message in a Bottle, The Notebook), exploring love and how people take care of each other as time passes.
Tackling 220 years in a one-person show is ambitious; a narrower focus might have been more entertaining. Ancient Jake is most engaging when the story focuses on the personal and what keeps Jake going. — TYLER GILLESPIE