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Theatre Review Print

PlayMakers' Jump Explores Grief and Depression with Compassionate Understanding

Event  Information

Chapel Hill -- ( Wed., Jan. 23, 2019 - Sun., Feb. 10, 2019 )

PlayMakers Repertory Company: Jump
$57 - $12 -- Paul Green Theatre , 919-962-7529 , http://playmakersrep.org/show/jump/

January 26, 2019 - Chapel Hill, NC:

Grief and depression can trigger thoughts of suicide, a concern that forms the basis of Charly Evon Simpson's new play, Jump. Her script follows one African-American family's difficulties in dealing with that concern, exploring the ways loneliness and lack of communication can make matters worse. But it also shows how reaching out can bring hope and healing.

The 90-minute one-act, in its world premiere production at PlayMakers Repertory Company, centers on Fay, an office assistant in her late twenties, who is still processing her mother's death from cancer a year earlier. That death also strongly affected Fay's father, with whom she's never been close and whose heavy drinking is now adding further tensions between them. Fay and her older sister, Judy, have had to help him clear out the family home because he's decided to sell it. Boxing up items with Judy in their former shared room has caused Fay to relive some of the conflicts she's had all along with her sister, whose extroverted personality and no-nonsense confidence have been in stark contrast to Fay's quiet indecision and outsider loneliness.

Whenever Fay becomes overwhelmed with depressive thoughts, she finds solace in walking a nearby traffic bridge over a deep gorge, on which she can try clearing her mind. On one such walk, she spots a troubled-looking young man with whom she strikes up a tentative conversation that eventually reveals both of their feelings of helplessness and regret. That chance meeting begins a path to healing old wounds and to the possibility of new beginnings.

While that plot description sounds straightforward, Simpson's method of presenting it is anything but. The audience must piece together various elements of the characters' stories as revealed in time-shifting and often overlapping scenes. In addition, sometimes what we see is in Fay's imagination, which distorts reality into a version of Fay's own wishes and fears. The play asks a lot of questions about how someone contemplating suicide could be helped and demonstrates the fatal result for those who can't be reached or don't reach out.

PlayMakers' design team provides an appropriately atmospheric milieu for the performance, starting with set designer Alexis Distler's massive section of a suspension bridge, complete with huge cable, blinking red warning lights, and a walkway with railings. That forms the backdrop to the main settings of a living room and a bedroom in Fay's father's house, divided by a wide runway that becomes various real and imagined locations. Amith Chandrashaker's lighting goes from coldly ominous on the bridge to warmly nostalgic in the two rooms, enhanced by Sinan Zafar's mysterious, disturbing, and sometimes humorous sound design. And Tristan Raines’ contemporary costumes subtly signal each character's personality.

April Mae Davis easily conveyed Fay's attempts to cover her emotional turmoil with a guarded cynicism, revealing that turmoil when angrily confronting her father and shyly sharing it with Hopkins, the young man on the bridge. Adam Poole, in one of his best performances, gave Hopkins an engaging character, humorous and laidback on the surface, but deeply lonely and despondent inside. Poole and Davis filled Hopkins and Fay's blossoming relationship with moving attempts at connecting, despite each having emotional scars.

Shanelle Nicole Leonard turned in another strong characterization as Judy, astutely exhibiting her outward confidence and care-free life, but also letting us see cracks in that armor indicating everything is not so "fine." Trevor Johnson made Fay and Judy's father's inarticulate attempts to explain his feelings believable and incited empathy for his being adrift after his wife's death.

Director Whitney White has deployed her actors in all corners of the set, keeping the pace lively and the interactions intently focused, drawing natural, down-to-earth performances from all four.

In the final fifteen minutes, the script has several successive scenes, each seeming a possible ending to the play and each with similar pacing and tone, causing a drop in the material's otherwise gripping thrust. The play's basic intimacy also suggests it might be even more effective in a smaller venue.

Nevertheless, Simpson's provocative structure and themes, along with the production's total commitment to the piece, make Jump easily recommended as an entertaining but also instructive look at the oft-hidden struggles of family, friends, and co-workers.

Jump continues through Sunday, Feb. 10. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.