City: New York Venue: The Bleeker Street Theater Date: 2004-03-07
The Glorious Melting Potluck Buffet of Sarah Jones
Reading theater and film reviews is, for me, a delicate process. Just tell me whether to see the production or not. If you can do that in the first few sentences, without draining any of the future suspense, I will love you. Just give me a hint. If the play or film sucks, then tell me all about it and save me the dough. Unless it sucks so creatively bad that I must see it. If it's great, then please shout just that. Please, then, shut up.
Sarah Jones's one-woman play, Bridge & Tunnel, is frickin' brilliant! If you live in the tri-state area, then you must get your ass out the door, cross a bridge and/or cruise a tunnel and end up at downtown Manhattan's cozy Bleeker Street Theater for this Meryl Streep and Culture Project produced miracle of a play. If you find yourself living a bit further away, but you were looking for that special excuse to visit NYC, then you now have it.
If you don't know about Sarah Jones you truly need to know about Sarah Jones. She is the type of writer and performer whose work is so nuanced and delicious that she is impossible to categorize. She is comedian, poet, actor, MC, athlete, linguist, changeling all rolled into one and she's beat the FCC. She may be, along with Danny Hoch ("Jails, Hospitals & Hip Hop"), the finest theatrical talent of her generation. And while most one-person productions these days seem to be autobiographical in nature, and somewhat, if not completely, confessional, Ms. Jones's baby has been clearly birthed by a playwright. And this baby is as multi-cultural/racial/ethnic/generational/sexual as you can get.
Plot-wise this is all I will tell you. You are part of the audience at the annual "I.A.M.A.P.O.E.T.T.O.O." reading being held at the Bridge & Tunnel near the JFK airport in Queens, which contains some of the most diverse neighborhoods in the world. It is the perfect theatrical device, for you the audience member no longer have that "fourth wall" to hide behind. The event is hosted by the affable, middle-aged Pakistani immigrant Mohammed Ali, a master of ceremonies who is delightfully prone to corny one-liners. He is the glue for this poetry club made up of immigrants both recent and old who have come from all corners of the globe. Throughout the evening, we hear the voices of many of the club's poets, most of them via their poems, and a few who although decline the poetic spotlight, talk anyway. Some are young, some are old. Some are angry, some are sad. Some are spiteful, some are playful. Some are shy, some are melodramatic. All are endearing, as they give a condensed kernel of their experiences as an American immigrant, whether from Vietnam, Haiti, Russia, Jordan, China, Mexico or Australia.
Perhaps what is most phenomenal is that each character could be performed by a separate actor and the play would still work. Yet it is Ms. Jones's uncanny, seamless ability to inhabit so many personalities that impresses most. All she needs is a few transitional seconds of music, a different shade of lighting and a quick change of jacket. And by its nature it's a political play, which serves to remind us that in these post 9/11 times when tolerance may be the first thing forgotten, we are all immigrants. One look at the diverse, sold-out crowd at 45 Bleeker Theater, underlined this fact.
As far as I know "Bridge & Tunnel" has an open-ended run. But don't sleep on this. Come to Sarah. Don't wait for Sarah to come to you. You'll laugh your ass off. You might cry. You may even get a little angry. Mostly, though, you'll want more.
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