Whidbey playwright opens ‘Olive and Jack,’ a domestic comedy at WCT

Marta Mulholland and Jim Scullin play the Popeye and Olive Oyl-inspired characters in “Olive and Jack” opening at Whidbey Children’s Theater Friday

Unhappiness seems to drag along behind them as the war looms ahead, and yet, it’s still a comedy.

“Olive and Jack” is a domestic comedy set at the start of World War II about a couple living in Port Gamble.

The company-owned village, where the married Olive and Jack live, is far from any teeming cosmopolitan action, and this makes Olive unhappy.

Playwright Tom Churchill describes Olive as “a twelve-o’clock woman in a nine o’clock town” who carries on a daily dialogue with her husband aimed at jogging new life into their shaky relationship.

Meanwhile, her radical plan to jump into bed with the randy fisherman, Pete, is foiled by the sudden responsibility of caring for her teenage niece and nephew, who were thrust upon the couple by an unexpected death in their extended family.

Churchill said he used the comic book hero and heroine, Popeye and Olive Oyl, to feed the subtext of the play all the way down to Pete’s bearing a striking resemblance to Bluto, Popeye’s longtime rival.

Olive reads Time magazine diligently and fancies herself hip to the intellectual life that eludes her fellow townies. It is her opinion that the dullness of the town hinders her capacities as an intellectual and, in her mind, the great life as a singer she would have had if it wasn’t for her being stuck in a dead-end town and marriage.

Jack conveniently blames the onset of the war for all his problems, even though it’s his drinking that gets him fired. He rails against the company’s greed and uses his loyalty to the union to mask the personal problems that plague him.

Olive feels a moral obligation to raising her teenaged charges, which leads them to abandon her and her outlandish discipline for another sister, the long-suffering and deeply caring Aunt Dorothey.

Churchill said World War II provides the perfect background for this play because of the undercurrent of change taking place in both Olive’s world and the wider world.

“I wrote this play out of the memory of my Aunt Olive being always portrayed to me by her loving sisters as the ‘black sheep’ of the family,” Churchill said.

He said he used his childlike memories of his aunt to create a leading character that wasn’t a “monster” as one sister called her.

“I wanted a woman, a basically good human being, who loved to perform even in her living room, but was crippled by her need to discipline the family,” he said.

Churchill said his Aunt Olive realized too late that her failure to see the good in Jack might have hindered their happiness together.

But, although the subject matter may seem dire, the play is a comedy.

“I believe that comedy should always try, at least, to plumb all the emotions,” Churchill said.

“As with Mozart and Chekhov, you have to laugh and cry to feel its full potential to entertain and to lift one’s spirits.”

David Mayer directs the play with the gratitude of someone who appreciates the autobiographical bent of the author.

“I think this play continues Tom’s quest to study the people and events who shaped him,” Mayer said.

Mayer said Churchill has a unique ability to connect to the audience through the frustrations, longings and multi-tiered relationships of his lifetime.

“And the backdrop of the looming war and a setting on the water’s edge offer a wonderful symbolic base from which to launch,” Mayer said.

The team agreed that they think “Olive and Jack” is a funny and touching story of a struggling marriage and family.

The cast includes Marta Mulholland, Jim Scullin, Kathy Stanley, Athena Michaelides, Lane Koughan, Dwight Zehm, Matt Bursell and Tom Churchill, .

Set design is by Ron Atlee, lights and sound by Lane Koughan and Nathan Simpson, with stage management by Zora Lungren.

This play is not recommended for young children.

“Olive and Jack” runs at Whidbey Children’s Theater at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Sundays Sept. 5 through Sept. 14.

Tickets are $12 for adults and $8 for students at the door or by calling WCT at 221-2282.

Patricia Duff can be reached at pduff@southwhidbeyrecord.com or 221-5300.