Created and performed by Eastcheap Rep.
Directed by Chris Chaberski
Midtown International Theatre Festival/Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex Mainstage
312 West 36th Street (212/279-4200; www.midtownFestival.org; www.ticketcentral.com)
Non-union production (closes Aug. 1)
Review by Jason Anthony

Hands down, the most terrifying moment of Jumpers is a literal nightmare. Joe (Luke Rosen) is a man whose life is destroyed by recurrent, debilitating dreams from which he wakes screaming. The nightmares come from his harrowing morning on September 11th, on the corner of Nassau and Fulton, blocks away from the greatest attack sustained by America.

Isolated from the plot, these dreams were spoken by ghostly figures on ladders. Their dialog is taken straight from transcripts of the victims in the South Tower of the WTC, in the last moments before the fall. It was amazing theatre. To hear these words, even after two years of gross media oversaturation, proved unexpectedly stark and gripping.

And it's about time. The artistic dialog around 9/11 has been almost as bathetic as its politics. Country music struck first, with sap and rage; New York theatre has been more tentative. At its best, we find a genuine exploration of the question: what is the appropriate response to tragedy? Ambivalence? Action? Cynicism? Tears? Jumpers, a collaborative work from Eastcheap Rep. presented at the Midtown International Theatre festival, does a yeoman job here. Joe's wife states it simply, "I'm angry, I'm sad, and I'm completely overwhelmed." This strikes home; it implies experiences without conclusions, uncertainty without shame.

The plot follows the downward spiral of Joe and America after the insane terrorist attacks, which left room for no rational response. Joe shuts down, his girlfriend Carly (Molly Kidder) is dragged down with him, the media (as represented by Carly's reporter friend Emma, a role well and coldly shouldered by Juliet Fara) goes into a frenzy. America goes to war, and Carly's brother Don (Philip Easley) is a seductive recruiting sergeant who invites the angry and disenchanted to "join the family who doesn't sleep at night." In the middle, Everyman Jake (Peter Chenot) is keeping an even keel, the pragmatic American whose pragmatism is pressed to its limits.

In spite of some overstated cliches, it is amazing how strong the script really is. It shines through the acting, which veers to the melodramatic. And it far overshadows the staging of director Chris Chaberski, which might have framed the simple dialog more effectively. The set, simple to the extreme -- a few ladders and a chair or two -- unfortunately invited the actors to wander. It is the sort of piece you know will settle down and improve with age, and one hopes that Eastcheap will keep this in their Rep.

Jumpers was a success at last year's Edinburgh Fringe. Here, closer to home, it is still insightful. Let's hope to see more of this kind of thoughtful dialog about an event that can never be answered, only earnestly -- and painfully -- acknowledged.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2003 Jenny Sandman