A summer directive for dramaphiles: do not miss The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow.
And if you're called away from this Old Globe entry, please stay for the talk between Jennifer Marcus and Colonel Hubbard. As this scene goes, so goes director Kirsten Brandt's take on her assignment, a take that will certainly cinch her and her charges some sort of postseason accolade(s).
Man-this is just a great, great show.
Playwright Rolin Jones, a Yale MFA candidate, has cleanly motivated his characters with impeccable timing, embedding a flippant irony around Marcus (Seema Sueko) and the people in her life. Only this trippy genius from Calabasas-whose obsessive-compulsive disorder and agoraphobia have confined her to home at the age of 22-can snag a missile design contract and build a functioning robot at the drop of a crescent wrench.
Todd, the whiny pizza guy (Zachary Quinto), is rapt at his friend's feats. To date, Todd's own dope-clouded accomplishments include cutting off the top of his car and building his own bong (the latter took him a month).
But Jenny Chow isn't about emotional disorders any more than Fuddy Mears is a story on amnesia. Like Fuddy, this play relies on such anomalies to build its story: as Marcus can't bring herself to leave the house, she'll build a facsimile named Jenny Chow (Michelle Wong) to literally fly to China and meet up with her birth mom.
This storyline could have become engineered and contrived, but Jones' clever subtext steers things the other way. For example, he's drawn Terrence (Kelly VanKirk) to trace Marcus' mother to a Chinese village. Only, Terrence isn't any ordinary sleuth-he's a Mormon, sheepishly trading his time for cybersex with Marcus. (The Mormonism reference works perfectly here. The Church is expert at genealogy and has pledged to complete a tree on mankind in its entirety.)
Marcus' stepmom Adele (Jordan Baker) is an overbearing ass-pain who hasn't had a decent roll in the hay since American Bandstand went off the air. Marcus' dad (Steve Pickering) is a sympathetic ex-firefighter who probably wishes his daughter would hook up with Todd. Brandt, Sledgehammer Theatre's artistic director, infectiously revels in her characters' flesh and blood. She showers the stage with bits of business, exploits Michelle Riel's cunning set and coaxes eminently readable definition from the rest of her troupe.
The litany of superlatives goes on and on, for Jenny Chow is brutally honest in its intent and brash and bold in its execution. Brandt's always been pretty good at illustrating the linear element in artistic expression. Here, she is positively exceptional. ©
This review is based on the matinee performance of June 20. The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow plays through July 18 at the Old Globe's Cassius Carter Centre Stage. $19-$47. 619-23-GLOBE.
It's hard to find good help
Just once, somebody oughta stage Jean Genet's The Maids without allowing the actors to touch each other, which would underscore the play's themes of alienation. More importantly, it would prevent the director from trivializing the principals' driving force: mutual contempt.
That marginalization is apparent in this current 6th@Penn Theatre production. Claire (Laurie Lehmann-Gray) and Solange (Dana Hooley) are domestics who've had it up to here with the hierarchal oppression of Madame (Anne Tran). But director Sam Woodhouse fails to infuse the show metaphorical balance; what's supposed to be a heady statement on class distinction looks and feels like a household squabble. Even then, a clear winner is never defined.
Woodhouse is the artistic director of the San Diego Repertory Theatre. Tran is the Asian-American Repertory Theatre's marketing chief. Tran's good in this show-but for the sake of their other endeavors, both people need to get this behind them.