The New York Times

February 15, 2006
THEATER REVIEW 'JUMP/CUT'
Cutting and Splicing Pieces of a Friend's Madness
By Miriam Horn

The playwright Neena Beber has met two extraordinary challenges in "Jump/Cut," a Women's Project production that opened at the Julia Miles Theater on Sunday night. She has made a play that, like Frederic Wiseman's documentary films, refuses to impose dramatic coherence on life. Something happens, or doesn't; causality and resolution remain hard to find, yet the assembled fragments accumulate an unforgettable power. And she has made a play about despair that does not leave an audience desperate. Instead, it is left exhilarated by the fierce beauty of her writing and by an utterly captivating performance by Luke Kirby as Dave, the brilliant young manic-depressive whose circular, inescapable fate is the central mystery of the work.

The storyteller is Paul (Thomas Sadoski), an aspiring filmmaker who has watched his childhood friend unravel. Having promised not to let Dave die a "bum in a stinking motel room," he has given him residence on his living room couch. At the urging of Karen (Michi Barall), the woman both men love, Paul begins videotaping Dave, trying to map the polar extremes of feeling his friend traverses, hoping to pinpoint the moment when the disaster began. As children, he recalls in one of Ms. Beber's many lyrical passages, he and Dave saw a time-lapse film of an emerging plant and then spent hours watching dirt, hoping to see "a little green hand pushing through a seed."

So he lets the camera watch and watch Dave's every move, and the play becomes Paul's imagined film, with abrupt jump-cuts, projected scenery and occasional flashes of light. Despite the dislocations, the director, Leigh Silverman, keeps time and place crystal clear, and wisely underplays the cinematic effects.

Though Dave rarely rises from Paul's couch, it is not hard to see why he stirs such love and fascination in his childhood friend. Despite his craziness, or perhaps because of it, he is intensely attractive. His imagination is ceaseless, singular, wrenching, often darkly funny. He speculates that plastic is alive but breathes just once every million years, too slowly for us to see. He compares himself to sea turtles, "scurrying across the sand to get to the ocean, most of them eaten along the way." He adds: "My life a little stretch of sand. The predator in this case, my own brain."

He recognizes the allure of his unpredictability and indulges in lacerating self-parody. The side effects of his medications, he says, include "weight gain, excessive thirst or urination, seizures, coma and, rarely, death — death as a side effect, I love that."

Karen is neither a fully worked-out person nor a fully worked-out character. Bored with her own ideas, she does little to make them more interesting to the audience. But while Ms. Barall leans too heavily on her winsome smile, she does bring sexual fire to the stage, deepening with her presence the threads of memory and mutual self-justifying contempt that bind the men. In the end, Paul gives an ambiguous gift to Dave. After a lifetime at the mercy of his madness and pharmacology, Dave is permitted finally to shape his own shapeless story, to unearth in it a meaning at once unbearably sad, and transcendent.

"Jump/Cut" continues through Feb. 26 at the Julia Miles Theater, 424 West 55th Street;(212) 239-6200.

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