Through Sunday, Feb. 10
PlayMakers Repertory Company, Chapel Hill
From the first moments of Jump, we know we’re in a surreal world. More than a trace of Robert Wilson’s spare manipulations of time, cause, and effect are visible in the stage imagery director Whitney White’s design team achieves at the start of this PlayMakers Repertory Company world premiere.
Sinan Zafar’s Eno-esque ambient soundscape juxtaposes long, weightless chords with crisp, disconnected urban sounds, as actor April Mae Davis walks onto set designer Alexis Distler’s impressive section of a paint-peeling big-city bridge. Amith Chandrashaker’s lights set the time at twilight as Davis slowly brings a vape pen to her mouth and inhales. When the smoke ghosts from her pursed lips, it holds an eerie semi-corporeal form for a moment before dissipating. After Davis nervelessly drops the pen over the bridge’s railing, she repeats the gesture, pulling out a series of vaporizers, smoking, and then dropping them until the image is thoroughly burned in.
With an opening that chimerical, we probably don’t need most of playwright Charly Evon Simpson’s uncertain reminders throughout Jump’s ninety minutes—in too many non-sequitur light cues, rewound dialogue, and references to sudden head pain and disorientation—that we’re viewing events through one character’s shifting states of consciousness.
That would be Fay, a twenty-something office assistant who is still shaken a year after the death of her mother. Fay hides her unease behind a pugilistic front with her older sister, Judy (Shanelle Nicole Leonard), a necessary prerequisite for cleaning out their childhood home before its sale. A similar sense of armed truce permeates Fay’s tense conversations with her dad, carefully sculpted by actor Trevor Johnson as a grieving, angry, self-medicating man who’s just as rocked by the family’s subtractions.
As a long day of housecleaning extends well after dark, Simpson sets tentative family rapprochements against the equally tentative beginnings of Fay’s relationship with Hopkins (Adam Poole), an edgy grad student she meets during her walks along the local bridge. Mortality and alienation tinge that relationship as well; Hopkins admits he’s been contemplating and resisting suicide for reasons that challenge his ability to put them into words. By play’s end, we learn he’s not the only one to have considered—or acted on—that impulse.
Like a strange cross between Marie Kondo and Jack Kevorkian, Simpson’s characters inventory the things they’re tempted to keep—including childhood mementos, family structures, relationship dynamics, and their lives—in a pensive drama with a candid concession: All that we value is contingent and in need of regular reexamination.