Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Review of Flashpoint's Jump/Cut

First published in Edge Philadephia:

Imagine taking everything in your kitchen and trying to make a meal out of it. If you don’t think it would taste any good, then don’t go see Neena Beber’s insipid and uninteresting Jump/Cut, currently at Flashpoint Theatre.

Of course, I’m assuming a well-stocked kitchen, and one thing’s clear, that Nina Beber has an (occasionally) very interesting mental pantry to draw from. Her Philadelphia premiere at Flashpoint includes a love triangle stuffed with thoughts and anecdotes on film, hagiography, biography, manic-depression, the poetic romanticizing of illness, keeping a blood oath to a friend, the nature of creativity, sexual apathy, etc. In this case, it’s not too many cooks that spoil the broth. Too bad she doesn’t have a good friend or editor to tell her what she needed to leave out.

But surprisingly enough for a TV and film writer, she lacks a sense of dramatic structure, and took an hour to get to her first-and only-major plot point.

Admittedly, I’m a bit wary of any play that starts with the line "I don’t know where to begin." But even the convoluted mess that comprises this play must begin somewhere, in this case, a monologue (one of many) by Paul (Christopher Bohan), which then flashes back to the night of his high school graduation.

There, in an evening otherwise full of youthful promise and marijuana-obscured debauchery ("the world’s gonna be our dime bag!"), he makes a fateful promise to Dave (Keith Conallen), who begs him "you gotta keep me off the ratty couch and make sure I don’t become a bum." Flash forward a few years (it’s not clear) to Paul’s career as a filmmaker in California. "Pulling back the camera," he announces, "alters emotional distance while letting something interesting come into frame." That something: Karen (Kristy Chouiniere), a former screenwriter he once humiliated, who he reencounters at a café and now pursues romantically.

I imagine that this play excites the few firing mental neurons of twenty-something pseudo-intellectuals, who think shallowly about many subjects (usually while stoned) and feel oh so deep in the process.
Now a grad student studying the hagiography of the Countess di Castelloni, Karen reluctantly begins a relationship with Paul just as Dave-now a failed novelist-moves in to live on Paul’s couch. Suddenly we learn that Dave’s difficulty with personal hygiene (he feels too unmotivated to even fasten the buttons on his shirt) stems from his longstanding manic-depressive illness. And while Karen initially berates Dave’s laziness, and Dave condemns Paul for selling out his dreams, the three of them (after an hour) hit on a solution: make a documentary about Dave’s illness.

I told you it took a while. For Beber, however, the delay poses no problem, as she has Paul explain that we could "imagine life as a series of jump-cuts, random events connected by a theme." However, most of the second half plays out like long stretches of reality television, but without the booze the producers feed the housemates to make things interesting. Conallen supplies enough juvenile humor to provoke laughter, but despite Beber’s compelling moments of free associative writing that nonetheless shine through the sophomoric dialogue, the tension feels manufactured. And by the time Paul and Karen make the invariable sex tape (not shown), it’s beyond banal and I’m uninterested.

I can’t blame the cast or director Karen DiLossi for my disappointment. If anything, while DiLossi’s staging (on Simon Harding’s accessible setting) easily skirts the difficult time and place transitions (well played by Bohan especially), Joshua Schulman’s lighting appears overly simplistic. As the play unfolds, each of the three characters engages the audience in direct address, and Schulman’s paint-by-the-numbers approach to the lighting design gives them each a different colored ambiance. How helpful! Otherwise, I can’t imagine anyone would’ve understood that when one person’s talking, they’re talking!

But ultimately, the play’s the problem, as Beber crams every stray thought she’s ever had about mental illness and filmmaking (among MANY other subjects) into a plot that can’t sustain interest. I imagine that this play excites the few firing mental neurons of twenty-something pseudo-intellectuals, who think shallowly about many subjects (usually while stoned) and feel oh so deep in the process. And I feel for Conallen, who gets a delicious line like "where’s your bourgeois de vivre" within a script that only allows his performance to command attention (in his psychotic episode) right after the point where I’ve completely lost interest.

Otherwise, I felt like I was watching-especially in the second half-the dramatized version of "Listening to Prozac," coupled with bits of Godard and Hitchcock, and all this stuffed inside only a marginally believable love triangle. Everything in the kitchen pantry, indeed.

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