- In Pictures
- Meat Market
- Union Square
Contemplating changing of the guard, in more ways than one
BY JERRY TALLMER | One of G. K. Chesterton’s magical Father Brown detective stories that I devoured in my youth was titled “The Invisible Man” and had to do with an invisible (because so familiar) London postman who, however, left tracks in the snow.
To most of us — most Americans — the postman, or mailman, is a figure indeed so familiar as to be all but invisible (except on Social Security payment days, usually the third of any month).
Then, says David Jenkins, speaking from personal experience, “then they want to see you, come running to see you and get their checks.”
There are no Social Security paydays in “Post Office” — the lively clear-eyed play by 33-year-old David Jenkins. But there are two small town Illinois postmen: an old-timer named Denny and a 19-year-old named James whom the veteran takes under his wing, teaches the ropes to, caustically but caringly:
DENNY: You’re not wearing headphones out there, are you? Talking on your cell phone?
JAMES: No, man,
DENNY: No? Isn’t that what you children do all day? Talk on your—
JAMES: I’m not a child, man.
When James complains that sorting the mail is complex but hardly rocket science, the older man snaps: “Nothing is rocket science but rocket science. We could use a little less rocket science, you ask me.”
One day young James (David Gelles) has to deliver a package to a lady named Victoria something (Anney Giobbe), a nice lonely spirited woman twice his age — well, maybe nearer three times his age — who takes him under her wing, unpostally speaking. Teaches him the meaning of “tactile” and to listen to the cicadas. In bed.
Needless to say, Denny the dedicated (Eric Hoffmann) disapproves. What Denny approves of is the U.S. Postal Service.
“The mail never stops,” he proclaims with passion to a customer who has complained about the 44-cent-and-rising price of a postage stamp.
It never stops. Never. We go to sleep, we wake up, we get older, we get sick, we get better or we die. Wars are waged, won, or lost, but the mail keeps going. Every minute of every day, straight through the night, it’s in some process of motion,
In the heat of his peroration, Denny falls off a porch and fractures three ribs. His route is turned over — temporarily, of course — to his guilt-stricken young protégé. It shouldn’t require a rocket scientist to figure out where this story is heading — an analogue to the actual looming fate of the whole U.S. Postal Service in this worldwide age of texting and iPhones.
“Post Office” is set in the fictional town of Little Neck, Illinois. David Jenkins, born in Minnesota of good Irish stock, had all sorts of jobs in his youth — and one of them was as a postman (for four months) in the actual town of Lake Bluff, Illinois, “30 minutes north of The City” (meaning Chicago). “This was in the year 2000 — before the world blew up” (meaning 9/11).
“Everything happens so fast now,” says the refreshingly unspoiled and enthusiastic David Jenkins. He sometimes switches from computer to typewriter to slow things down (“You can play the typewriter like an instrument.”).
He may stick that Social Security bit back into this play. “I’m not done writing it yet.” The same is true of a somewhat intrusive passage anent John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.”
“I don’t know, it scares me,” Jenkins murmursThe U.S. Postal Service, he declares with dry, inverse irony, “deserves to go away — we don’t need it. It’s an admirable institution whose time has come. I think of it as Willy Loman” — the worn-out all-American success/failure protagonist at the center of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.”
And Willy Loman of course applies almost one-to-one to Denny the postman. “They’re just going to throw you away like an old television or something,” says his guilty young sidekick.
“What’s terrifying to me,” says Arthur Miller heir David Jenkins, “is we’re not just talking about the end of Denny, we’re talking about the end of his industry.”
Before there was an Arthur Miller there was a Clifford Odets, whom young David Jenkins, some 80 years later, worships as a big time “social playwright” in a line then “renovated” for each generation — “what it means to be an American” — by Miller, Sam Shepard, Tony Kushner, et al,
Jenkins came out of Boston University with a BA in philosophy and political science —”two things you can’t get a job doing.” In the NYU Acting Program in this city, he met and married a girl named Josie Whittlesey “who is actually the director of this play” as she had been for his earlier “Middlemen.”
We’re lucky to have him sill among us. “Broke my neck in an auto accident in South Bend, Indiana,” Jenkins says, craning his head from side to side. “No, I wasn’t driving. Happened right near Notre Dame. They get that kind of football injury a lot. Probably the best place in the United States to have that accident happen.”
Mr. and Mrs. David Jenkins now live in Jackson Heights, Queens.
Any kids yet?
“Bite your tongue,” said Mr. Jenkins.