“The mind of a man is a dark forest,” Tara, the ex-girlfriend, says to Jerry, the 40-year-old first-time dad-to-be of Jonathan Marc Sherman’s new play, Knickerbocker. The play is set at a restaurant booth in Manhattan; in each scene, Jerry is hashing out his doubts, fears and expectations about impending fatherhood with a different character from his life.
In the scene with Tara, Jerry seems to somehow hold his own in a verbal skirmish in which he seems outgunned. While he tries to figure out if there is still a romantic frisson between them, she toys with him and bemusedly admits she doesn’t know exactly how he, with his many infractions, never ended up on her notorious enemies list. He responds to her sweeping aphorism by saying, “Umm, my mind is just sort of a mind — less a dark forest than, like, maybe the grounds of a semi-rural summer camp.”
Knickerbocker is the latest play from Sherman, who is himself a new father. Its world premiere will be this month on the Nikos Stage at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. Sherman launched his career as a playwright in 1988, when as an 18-year-old student at Bennington College, his play Women and Wallace won the prestigious Young Playwrights Festival in New York. Back then, Sherman was an acting student at Bennington, making an immediate impression on his professor, Nicholas Martin. Fast forward two decades and Martin is the artistic director at Williamstown, and directing Knickerbocker at the festival.
“He seemed to come fully formed as a writer,” said Martin of his former student, with whom he has kept up both a longstanding professional relationship and a personal friendship. Martin has directed and produced a number of Sherman’s plays, both in New York and at Williamstown. Sherman, said Martin, writes with an uncommon humanity. “Jonathan believes in love. It’s an unusual quality in a sophisticated writer today.”