Theatre yesterday and today



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I'll never look at another container at the grocery store the same way again.

And that's not because Sarah Jones's new play of that title has anything to do with expired food. No, it's because it's given me so much food for thought since I saw at a Wednesday matinee a few days ago. That the show's subject takes on, what one critic called, "the next 100 years of the world's oldest profession," isn't what makes it a meal of an evening at the theatre. Its greater virtue has to do with the insights Ms. Jones shares of where she thinks we are today as a nation and where we may be heading. The wide range of topics unfurled in this whirlwind of a ninety-minute futuristic monologue is breathtaking. And did I mention that she plays some eighteen different characters? Well, she does.

Sarah Jones on her minimal set portraying a maximum of 18 characters

in Sell/Buy/Date at the Manhattan Theatre Club.

I can't recall sitting through a play before when I kept thinking, "Where have you been all my life, Sarah Jones?" Beginning the play as Serene, a lecturer/teacher in a posh British accent, I said to myself, "Hmm... I didn't know she was British." Yeah. She's that good. I marveled not only at her ability to change characters in a split second by adding a pair of glasses, or a scarf, but by her expertise with accents (she must portray at least a dozen nationalities). Also, setting the play nearly a hundred years in the future allows Jones to take on an array of issues in tragi-comic ways by use of technology that doesn’t yet exist. Under the superb direction of Carolyn Cantor, this is a twist that establishes bells and whistles which never feel gratuitous, but organic to the piece as a whole.

"How can the whole world not know about Sarah Jones," she told CBS News at the time of the show's transfer. "She is a once in a lifetime artist." Somehow I missed the Tony Award winning production of Bridge and Tunnel, Jones's first one-woman show she wrote and performed in Off-Broadway in 2004. It was Meryl Streep who saw her in it and who decided on the spot to produce it on Broadway.

Indeed. But with the subsequent twelve-year gap between Bridge and Tunnel and Sell/Buy/Date, I shouldn't be too hard on myself for being unfamiliar with Sarah Jones until this week. She's been a little busy.

As an educator she has traveled the world these past dozen years on behalf of human rights. Educated at the United Nations International School and Bryn Mawr College, she became a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and (according to her website) "has spent years raising awareness of issues including ethnic/racial, gender, and economic disparities in the U.S and globally. After attending Bryn Mawr College, Sarah began her earliest performances, which trace back to slam poetry at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York." In fact, Jones is the first artist in history to sue the Federal Communications Commission for censorship during a battle over her poem/song “Your Revolution.”

So she's got that going for her.

I could got into great detail about the exact plotting and all of the characters Jones embodies on the stage of the Manhattan Theatre Club eight times a week, but I won't. One of the things I least like about reading a critic's review is when the paragraphs go on and on about the plot and what works or doesn't work about it. I'm not interested in all that prior to seeing a show... maybe after, and then, only maybe. As a champion "skimmer," I've perfected the art of picking up a review and obtaining its essence by virtue of three or four paragraphs tops. My feeling is spare me the minutiae and the recap (where's the skill in that?) and give me the essence of what it is that it made you feel. I understand that discerning theatre goers like to know what they're getting themselves into, but not I. Lately, I've taken to seeing shows and not even opening the program before it starts. The less I know the better. Invite me into a world and I'm game for wherever the journey may take me. And what better times at the theatre are there when you transported? I mean, that's what it's all about, isn't it?

Ms. Jones provides that. If you want a glimpse of what she does, here she is from June of last year when she premiered the premise of Sell/Buy/Date at a Ted Talk:

With Sarah Jones's work, what I am most responding to is her fierce intelligence. Is there anything more attractive than that in a performer (or a friend)? Yes, if one has a sense of humor, which she does in abundance. So at the risk of this appearing more like a proposal of marriage than any kind of coherent review, I'll finish by stating the obvious: go see Sell, Buy, Date. And bring a friend.

As one of her characters says, "It will make you feel all the feels." So just sign me up. I'm a fan. I'll never miss anything she ever does again.

Ron Fassler's Up in the Cheap Seats: a Historical Memoir of Broadway, is coming soon from Griffith Moon Publishing: