Play needs to bridge a few gaps

Review: If `On the Jump' didn't have such gaping plot holes, it would be a more charming production.

January 23, 2002|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

References to jumping, leaping and falling abound in John Glore's On the Jump, a flawed but sprightly romantic comedy receiving its East Coast premiere at Washington's Arena Stage.

In terms of plot, the most significant uses of these words refer to leaping to one's death and falling in love. And, unlikely as this sequence of events might sound, in Glore's play the first precipitates the second.

This is how it works: Colleen Ferguson, whose husband has jilted her hours after their wedding, is about to jump off a bridge when she hears someone sneeze. Discovering that it's another would-be suicide, she yells for him to stop, and in the process, startles him into falling.

As staged by director Wendy C. Goldberg, it's a very funny moment, made all the more so because of the guilt it provokes in the already desperate Colleen, a sweet-natured but gullible young woman portrayed by Andrea Anders with the type of comic timing that dire straits only accentuate.

Feeling responsible for the stranger's death, Colleen goes through the pockets of his discarded coat for clues to his identity. Discovering that he was named Albert Wheatcroft, she visits the home of his closest relatives, his grandparents, to break the news of his death.

The play takes a giddy turn when the wealthy grandparents mistakenly assume that Colleen is young Albert's widow and invite her to move in with them. Swayed by their kindness, their need for her presence and their luxurious lifestyle, Colleen - who appears to be the kind of girl who has drifted into things all her life - acquiesces.

From there, the plot gets thicker and thicker as Colleen becomes increasingly fond - and enmeshed in the lives - of the charming senior Wheatcrofts, endearingly played by aristocratic Victoria Boothby and impish Bernie Passeltiner.

The production also features delightful supporting performances by Holly Twyford as Colleen's goofy actress roommate, John Dow as the Wheatcrofts' loyal butler, and Naomi Jacobson in the double role of Albert's opportunistic landlady and a cantankerous waitress.

But there are a few perilous plot holes in this otherwise enchanting tale. For one thing, we never learn why angry, young Albert (David Barlow) walked out on his loving grandparents without a word more than six years earlier. Nor does it make sense that his grandparents would accept Colleen's word for his death, without making an effort to retrieve his body. On the Jump is billed as a modern-day fairy tale, but even fairy tales need a little more logic than this.

Playwright Glore has spent most of his career as either a literary manager or dramaturg (first at Arena Stage, then at Costa Mesa's South Coast Repertory, which commissioned and premiered On the Jump, and currently at Los Angeles' Mark Taper Forum). Peek beneath this play's surface and you'll find literary references ranging from Cinderella to Cyrano de Bergerac to the type of rebirth-and-reconciliation romances Shakespeare wrote at the end of his career.

But theatrical allusions aside, On the Jump has a strong cinematic feel, perhaps due in part to the fact that Glore based it on an unproduced screenplay by his wife, Amy Dunkleberger. Reminiscent of the movies of Ernst Lubitsch, George Cukor or Preston Sturges, the play would probably work better as a film. Fill in those pesky plot holes and this little love story could be a real sweetheart on celluloid.

On the Jump

Where: Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. S.W., Washington

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Sundays; 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays; 2:30 p.m., 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. some Sundays, and noon some Tuesdays, Wednesdays. Through Feb. 17.

Admission: $27-$45

Call: 202-488-3300

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