Jack Goes Boating

ARMS RACE Rubin-Vega, left, reaches out to Hoffman.

ARMS RACE Rubin-Vega, left, reaches out to Hoffman. Photograph: Monique Carboni

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

For years, the house style of the LAByrinth Theater Company has been a kind of flinty urban nihilism conveyed through shouting matches. In combustible, profane dramas such as Stephen Adly Guirgis’s Jesus Hopped the “A” Train and Our Lady of 121st Street, company members pitched into their roles like half-drunk street fighters at a block party gone bad. But the troupe’s latest offering, Robert Glaudini’s Jack Goes Boating, is as bobbingly gentle as its title suggests. Urban, sure. Gritty, a tad. But that thin, crusty cover barely hides a giant, mushy mass.

And we’re not talking about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s fleshy frame, amply displayed during swimming lessons he takes from his buddy Clyde (Ortiz). Hoffman’s Jack is a fidgety, throat-clearing study in prolonged-adolescent introversion. Swaddled in shapeless winter grays, a hat shoved over sad homemade dreadlocks, the reggae-loving limousine driver carries around a handheld cassette player to get a shot of “positive vibe.” When Jack ventures beyond his comfort zone to woo a shy and victimization-prone woman (Cole), he experiences the inevitable emotional growing pains. As one romance blooms, however, a more established one between cocky-insecure Clyde and volatile, unsatisfied Lucy (Rubin-Vega) threatens to wither from infidelity.

Director Peter DuBois avails himself of a ridiculously talented cast and David Korin’s blue-hued, versatile set to deliver an amiable if predictable arc of quirky relationship comedy. A lesser quartet of performers might not have outshone the weaker aspects of Glaudini’s dual portrait, but these guys are as galvanizing in love as they are in anger. — David Cote

Public Theater . By Robert Glaudini. Dir. Peter DuBois. With Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Ortiz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Beth Cole. 2hrs 5mins. One intermission.