Jump: Something mystical, something painful, something hopeful, and a whole lot of vaping

Credit: Liz Lauren

In Charly Evon Simpson’s Jump, vape pens mysteriously fall from the sky (and a character repeatedly catches them). Lights weirdly crackle and flicker. Two strangers on a bridge, one of whom came to jump off, spontaneously burst into a raucous dance to the Proclaimers’ 1998 song “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles).” And this is all in the first five minutes.

Suffice it to say that, in Shattered Globe’s Midwest premiere of the play, directed by AmBer Montgomery, not everything is going to make sense for a while. In fact, you could be nearly halfway through its 90-minute run time before Simpson’s stunning reveal allows you to really start to understand what is going on with these characters. Long before that, though, it is clear that something is not normal here, even given that these characters are here to clear out and sell a house where the two sisters grew up…after their mother’s protracted death from cancer has brought the whole family to the edge of despair and reduced the father to a drunken shadow of the man he once was.

Amazingly, given all that, Simpson is able to ground the play in a sense of humor, which Montgomery plays for all it’s worth. Scenes in the sisters’ childhood bedroom, as they clear out the detritus of two lives, are poignant but also hilarious and rife with earned laughter: not a mean feat. And the aforementioned bridge scenes between younger sister Fay (Jazzma Pryor) and the would-be jumper that she runs into one night—she just might be the reason he doesn’t go through with it—take that suicidal overtone and bury it as easily as these two stun each other and themselves with their dance/singalong.

Despite his suicidal bent, the guy on the bridge, Hopkins (played by Jeff Kurysz) is an emotional open book compared to Fay, who has so much churning within her head that she starts to believe she actually has a brain tumor…and maybe she even wishes she did: it might be easier than dealing with what her life has dealt her. Hopkins is almost bizarrely serene about his desire for death, while Fay—whose recent life has been framed by it—is just trying to find a way to make sense of things. Befriending Hopkins, and realizing that he comes to the bridge often, she gives herself something to look forward to.

Kurysz’ character (aided no doubt by Rachel Lambert’s wonderful choices of costumes for him) might be labeled “eccentric” if not for its essential grounding. This is a man who doesn’t want to be suicidal even if his mind is telling him to be, and Kurysz plays Hopkins’ slow realization of this truth beautifully. Fay’s behavior is far more out of control. She is a woman whose family has been worrying her about for years, and a sudden death (from drugs, from suicide) wouldn’t have even surprised them. But Pryor’s performance is not as out of control as her character: she shows us from the outset that she is trying as hard as she can to understand and deal with the current chaos of her existence, even if she can’t figure out the crackling lights.

As her older and apparently more settled sister, Judy, Jennifer Glasse brings us along on a trip down memory lane: jumping on her old bed (instigating the aforementioned laughter) while Fay sorts through some old belongings. Glasse captures the necessary dichotomy of her character: she is currently calm and fairly complacent while understanding the turmoil of the past. Perhaps laughter is the only real way to deal with something like this.

As the girls’ bereft and mostly drunk father, Alfred H. Wilson’s Dad has opted out of any sense of reality and responsibility. Even before he arrives onstage, the girls comment about how poorly he has dealt with tragedy, and it is instantly clear that they are right. But Wilson (and Montgomery) don’t allow that to be everything that defines his character. We see that he is mightily struggling, and we hear him make totally awful statements to Fay, the daughter he has never loved as much, but Simpson ultimately allows an arc of, if not quite redemption, then at least understanding.

As to Pryor, whose Fay is the center of the play, her performance is an absolute revelation. She breathes life (and copious vape smoke) into a horrifically broken woman and somehow never ceases showing the potential strength within all of the fragility. She morphs her performance depending on her scene partner: with Wilson, she is on guard and always on the verge of anger; with Kurysz, she allows herself to become inquisitive, introspective, and more caring than she ever gets with Dad; with Glasse, she is able to bring out more unbridled pain amid the nostalgia of the moment. And in her moments alone on stage, we can glimpse the inner confusion that controls Fay, whose fantastical hallucinations signal someone who is desperate to escape current reality even as her increasing desire to help Hopkins becomes more and more clearly about a desperate need to save someone.

The bridge itself, which so dominates the set design by Lindsay Mummert and Regina Garcia that several of the seats in the small house have to be labeled “obscured view” because its girders and walkway prevent a clear look into the bedroom set, its designers clearly understand its vital importance to the piece. The bridge, we are told often, is a focal point of the view from the house; in fact, it was a primary consideration in the parents’ decision to buy it. Fay’s clearest early memory is of her mother taking the sisters to walk its majestic span, and everything in the play pretty much revolves around it. It is a symbol both of permanence and impermanence, as dichotomous as the emotions of the characters. (That early moment when a potential suicide becomes a vibrant and celebratory dance highlights its powerful nature.)

In addition to the set design, Montgomery is fortunate to have other excellent designers, including Levi Wilkins, whose lighting is sometimes spectacular—look at the photo above—and sometimes, as in the bedroom, just exactly right for evoking childhood memory. Other key designers include Chris Kriz, with his original music and sound design (especially that mysterious crackling); Jamie Auer, who has managed to find the perfect props and set dressing to ground the story; and Lambert, who outdoes herself on Kurysz’ costumes but whose less outlandish work with the others is equally admirable.

Jump is a poignant, powerful story about the intersection between life and death for one family. Its provocative, compelling structure is mesmerizing and the performances (especially Pryor’s) are intricate and memorable. It is not to be missed.

Jump runs through June 1 at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont, Chicago. You can get tickets here For more Chicago reviews or show information, see chicagoonstage.com or theatreinchicago.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *