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Luke Kirby, Michi Barall, and Tom Sadoski in Jump / Cut
Photo © T. Charles Erickson
A group of twenty-somethings having trouble getting by in the big city walk into a coffee shop. If that narrative ploy sounds familiar, it's because it tends to occur in several plays involving artists trying to find themselves -- and a way to pay their rent. The latest one, Neena Beber's Jump / Cut, follows an aspiring film director named Paul (Thomas Sadoski), who hasn't picked up a camera since graduating college, his girlfriend Karen (Michi Barall), a spunky girl with a literary flair and a love of Dostoyevsky, and his best friend and roommate Dave (Luke Kirby), who suffers from manic depression, lives off his parents' trust fund, and fancies himself a budding James Joyce.

One day, the trio decides to pool their creative energies by shooting a documentary about Dave's illness, and they catch more on camera than they expect. Karen's relationship with Paul turns rocky under constant surveillance, and she and Dave use the video to leave clues that they may be having an affair. When Dave misses a dose of his medication, he has a manic episode that gives the film a dramatic jolt. The play leaves ambiguous exactly what is real and what has been staged -- until its bombshell finale.

Throughout the play, each of the characters pontificates about "Big Issues," including French New Wave cinema, Early Italian photography, the nature of perception, the ethics of representation, and the history and destiny of the Jews. Beber's ability to craft sparkling dialogue shines during these speeches, but one leaves the theater wishing that the playwright invested as much in character development as she did in thematic considerations. All three characters have the same overly articulate speech pattern, and even similar nervous mannerisms.

Indeed, it gets wearying to watch three people behave so jittery on a stage for two hours. Sadoski overdoes Paul's neuroticism to such an extent that he even puts on his shirt nervously. Barall has chosen to play Karen as "conflicted," but the performance itself is muddled as a result. Only Kirby fully realizes a detailed and cohesive performance, possibly because he can justify his character's wild transitions with a psychological condition. It would take an enormous effort to maintain full control of this script, and though director Leigh Silverman can't completely rein Beber in, she at least gives the script a relaxed pace and firm structure.

Toward the end of the play, one of the characters repeats the common film maxim that an audience will forgive anything in a movie if the ending is strong enough. Unfortunately, the surprise ending here seems superficially shocking and even tacked on. Instead of wresting high drama from a banal storyline, Beber should have started with a narrative that matches her ambitions. When she finds one, watch out.

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