“Actor. Humanitarian. Snack.” – Those are the first words we see on the screen, and they’re obviously meant to describe Jake Gyllenhaal. But filmmaker, writer and actress Melissa Center’s hour-long solo show is not the lascivious, stalker comedy that its title may suggest — or at least not exclusively.
“Marrying Jake Gyllenhaal” begins in 2015, when Melissa’s mother starts sending her clippings about the actor, especially the ones that point out that he’s not married, and he’s Jewish, or at least half Jewish. She initially dismissed her mother’s efforts as ridiculous and tried to ignore her. But she starts experiencing a lot of Six Degrees of Jake Gyllenhaal semi-connections (She acts on a TV episode with Annaleigh Ashford, who was also in rehearsals for “Sunday in the Park with George” with her co-star Jake Gyllenhaal.) Then halfway through the play, Melissa attends a Sag-Aftra event at which Jake Gyllenhaal is the guest. And that’s enough to start sharing her mother’s obsession, and half—strategizing, half-fantasizing her pursuit.
But much of “Marrying Jake Gyllenhaal” could just as easily be entitled “Melissa Center: Unlucky in Love.” She has just come out of a ten-year relationship, dramatizing the advice she sought before the breakup from her sister.
“What does the voice inside you say?”
“Well, I don’t know if it’s mine or Mom’s”
What follows are scene after scene of disappointing dates and doomed relationships, including a former classmate who turns into something of a stalker. She shows her experimenting with a threesome; she meets a very kind and generous couple, but their encounter makes her sad, because they have each other, but she goes home alone.
She intersperses these scenes with original songs (her lyrics, Jamie Buxton’s music) that largely reflect her hope that things will work out this time.
One song she doesn’t sing is “Sunday in the Park with George” – «If I was already married to Jake Gyllenhaal, I could afford the rights to it”– so, instead of singing it, she describes what happens in the song, and how she relates to Dot, always waiting for George to notice her.
“Marry Jake Gyllenhaal” is not as excessively downbeat as it may sound, and only occasionally a little creepy. Melissa Center is mostly funny and charming. If “Marrying Jake Gyllenhaal” ends the way it inevitably must – spoiler alert: Melissa Center has not married Jake Gyllenhaal – it takes a clever/odd, sort of feminist turn. Then the curtain call is hilarious.