“The Jacksonian,” a bloodstained, 90-minute piece of gothic Southern pulp by Pulitzer winner Beth Henley that comes straight from California’s prestigious Geffen Playhouse with a starry cast, leaves one wondering what attracted Ed Harris, Bill Pullman and Tony-winning director Robert Falls to this creepy and revolting yet inconsequential work.
Set in Jackson, Miss., in 1964, Harris plays a seemingly upright dentist holed up in the sleazy Jacksonian Motel, where he is visited by his estranged wife (Amy Madigan) and teenage daughter (Juliet Brett). He also spends time in the motel’s barroom, which is usually occupied by an ominous bartender (Pullman) and a self-absorbed maid (Glenne Headly) determined to snag the dentist for herself.
While Henley exposes the unapologetic racism and evil and violent qualities in several characters, she just leaves it all hanging awkwardly next to numerous disturbing visuals, including but not limited to the bartender attempting to swallow a knife and the dentist getting high on his gas and then harming several women.
Henley also tries to infuse the play with bits of dark comedy and suspense regarding a local murder mystery. The daughter will also stop the action to address the audience directly, as if in a Greek tragedy, and the scenes are presented in a fragmented, confusing style.
This all leaves “The Jacksonian” as a raw, muddled melodrama without much of a point.
In light of the play’s tone, it was inevitable that the performances would come off as ridiculous and clichéd despite the fine cast.
Harris at least delivers a convincing turn as someone on the verge of descending into the depths of his subconscious.