Welcome to another blog-only review, this time of the National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere of Charly Evon Simpson’s Jump, from Shrewd Productions (playing through September 29th at the Santa Cruz Theater).
Jump is a relatively simple play, taking place in only two locations—a family house within an unnamed big city, and the bridge which can be seen from afar through one of the house’s windows. Riding the line between these two spaces is Fay, a woman dealing with the aftermath of her mother’s death from cancer. The story moves back and forth between Fay cleaning out the family house with her sister Judy and their father, while simultaneously brooding on the bridge.
For the majority of the play, Simpson is deliberately elliptical as to the temporal relationship between the two settings. Is Fay on the bridge remembering the house, or in the house remembering the bridge? As the story unfolds, the relationship in time, space, and narrative between both settings becomes much clearer, slowly revealing a complex, heartfelt emotional depth that pays off the weird instances of Deja vu that Fay experiences from the start of the play.
At the heart of this production—and its greatest strength—is the completely natural, unaffected, desperately loving portrayal of Fay by Chelsea Manasseri. A regular player at the Vortex as well as a company member at Shrewd Productions, Manasseri is often cast in experimental or avant-garde works, so it is a treat to see her in a much more realist mode of psychological verisimilitude.
The same is true of Trey Deason (another actor who frequently crosses over between the Vortex and Shrewd) as Hopkins, a depressive whose encounters with Fay on the bridge becomes a lifeline that prevents him from jumping. It is through Hopkins that we initially encounter the play’s larger themes of depression, despair, and their genetic linkage.
Both Deason and Manasseri evoke different external images of depression, from mopiness to manic energy, in an examination of how what’s beneath the surface of a person is often at odds with what they portray to the rest of the world. This theme is further explored in Fay’s relationships with Judy, portrayed with charm and energy by Allegra Jade Fox, and their dad, a run down, beleaguered Kyron M. Hayes.
Shannon Grounds and her creative team (particularly set designer Indigo Rael and lighting designers Patrick Anthony and Emily Scott) effectively reinforce Simpson’s themes with a design sensibility—driven by a careful color palette—that plays off of the ways that the narrative twists of the story reveal themselves. Of special note is the sound design by Nick Hart, a near-constant bed of cityscape noises that create a sense of place while also highlighting crucial moments by suddenly pulling back to create eerie silence.
The weakness of this production, though, is its very slow pace, one that is almost plodding in the first act. This is a combination of elements that could be tightened up in both the text (several scenes feel repetitive of moments we’ve already viewed and concepts that have already been discussed) and the production (long moments of silence that needn’t stretch on quite as much as they do). What is a two-act play could, with some editing, easily become a much more powerful piece with no intermission that, unfortunately, pulls the audience out of the emotional build-up of the story, creating a second act that is richer in ideas than in feelings.
Jump is a powerful exploration of depression that, in some ways, speaks more to the head than the heart. It is, nevertheless, an important statement about what depression looks like, and with some tightening up it could provide a look into this vital issue with the same kind of depth, emotionally, that its intellectual vigor possesses.