Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Boulevard, Suite N, Rolando
$15 - $27
Long before I became one, a theater critic told me he saw “good productions of good plays, bad productions of bad plays, bad productions of good plays, and good productions of bad plays.” The toughest to evaluate, he said was the last kind. Theater lovers can enjoy a beautiful staging often in spite of the text.
But the play, as always, is the “thing.” So where to draw the line? That group, he replied, wavers much more than the others.
Case in point. Will Cooper “was not a theater natural,” he said in an interview. He became an “accidental playwright” when he sat in on an introductory to play-writing class and caught the bug. His Jade Heart prefers the “bug” to craft. Non-linear plays can shake up expectations, shed light on a subject from new angles, and activate audience participation in connecting the dots.
Jade Heart is excessively non-linear. It jerks and yanks back and forth through time in ways that feature the playwright’s invention — look what I can do — and detract from the story.
Cooper got the idea when his sister adopted an orphan girl China. She grew up in a loving home, “nothing like my character Jade.” She’s pulled between her unknown origin and an American mother desperate to erase any connection with the past. The one way Cooper’s approach works: Jade has a new identity in every scene.
The play jumbles and stumbles, but the Moxie production is first-rate.
When the show closes — and it must, after the 2:00 matinee this Sunday, August 10 — they should move Natalie Khuen’s set to a museum. Strings stretch horizontally across the stage, and vertically stage right. They look like gigantic, intersecting harps.
The design work and the performances are remarkably integrated, at once realistic and ethereal (director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, multiple Craig Noel Award-winner, is getting even better!). And Dana Wing Lau’s Jade, whether she’s six, then 22, then 15, is terrific.
Lamb’s outstanding Les Miz runs deep into September, but may require a Last Call as well. It’s the hottest ticket in town. Word has it people are seeing it again and again. And remaining shows are selling fast.