Alter ego

Jenny Chow is in good hands at WHAT
By IRIS FANGER  |  May 31, 2006


The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow

Jennifer Marcus is afraid, very afraid. Though the 22-year-old woman, Asian-born but American by adoption, is a certified genius, she has a mega-size case of agoraphobia joined to an obsessive-compulsive disorder that keeps her trapped inside her parents’ home in California. It’s her computer that frees her to travel the chat rooms of the globe in an increasingly frantic search for her biological mother.

Welcome to The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow, the 21st-century comic fantasia dreamed up by playwright Rolin Jones while he was still a first-year grad student at the Yale School of Drama. A finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize, the play opens the season at Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater (through June 17) in an imaginative and entertaining production directed by Brendan Hughes.

Jennifer Marcus, portrayed smartly by Teresa Lim, is a flesh-and-blood character. Jenny Chow is her robotic clone, invented by Marcus to take her place on the trip to a rural Chinese village where her birth mother lives. The gimmick is that the second Jenny is brought to life in the person of an actress — the adorable and clever Julia Chan as a latter-day Coppelia, except that the robot seems to develop a mind of her own.

Meanwhile, Jennifer’s adoptive parents — Adele, cast in Jennifer’s mind as a variant of the evil Queen in Disney’s Snow White, and her father, bumbling do-gooder Mr. Marcus — are coping with Jennifer’s behavior as best they can. Adele is the bad cop, played convincingly by Dee Nelson; she’s a mom who needs her daughter to be perfect in every way. Stephen Russell’s good-cop dad is more consoling but still cherishes memories of his baby daughter as the mascot of the high-school cheerleading squad. What’s most true to life is their ignorance of Jennifer’s far-ranging computer itinerary. (In the play’s most affecting scene, which is spoken in Chinese, the actors playing the American parents transform into the birth mother and her husband.)

Add to the home team Jennifer’s boyfriend, Todd, who’s made goofy but appealing by Ben Haas, and a quartet of Jennifer’s cyberspace buddies: a mad scientist who serves as her mentor, a pervert of a Mormon elder, a cynical know-it-all US Army lieutenant, and the Army procurement flunky. All four are rolled up in the chameleon-like body of actor Steven Barkhimer, who endows this cadre of clowns with just enough stage truth to make them believable. He might be accused of stealing the show if the other actors were not so capable.

The script has its problems, most having to do with its too-ambitious mix of themes that include cultural displacement, parental obligation and expectation, and finding one’s identity. Still, Jones has written a play that explores the imbalance of a society that’s giddy with the possibilities of exploring new technical frontiers while struggling to avoid the emotional landmines of modern times.

  Topics: Theater , Culture and Lifestyle, Pulitzer Prize Committee, Yale University,  More more >
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY IRIS FANGER
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   BODY POLITIC  |  September 02, 2008
    Anna Deavere Smith is a writer/actor/activist who listens.
  •   KOSHER COMIC  |  December 10, 2007
    Judy Gold sashays into a press conference with a white apron over her jeans and a tray of rugelach in her hand.
  •   CHRISTMAS IN CROATIA  |  December 09, 2007
    “If there are 1100 people in the audience,” Swanson reminds me, “around 600-700 of them will dance out into the Sanders lobby at intermission.”
  •   AFTER GODOT  |  November 06, 2007
    It’s fitting that Alvin Epstein should be cast in Beckett at 100 , since the venerable actor has been associated with the Nobel laureate’s plays for more than 50 years.
  •   THEATER OF WAR  |  October 31, 2007
    Director Scott Ellis doesn’t call David Rabe’s Streamers a play about war.

 See all articles by: IRIS FANGER