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A CurtainUp Review
Those who have followed Jones' multi-faceted writing career in theater, film and television (writer and co-producer of the Netflix series Orange is the New Black) will be pleased to learn that his trademark humor and wit are much in evidence in his new theater piece. He is again teaming up with Moritz von Stuelpnagel who directs at a crackerjack pace.
The lights go up on the Darum's small attic apartment. Jo, center stage, reading her fantasy novel Dragonscape to her 8 year-old son Lincoln. Her husband Josh, also in his early 30s, is upstage right reading a newspaper. As Jo finishes Chapter Two about fighting dragons and dwarfs, she shifts her attention to Josh who's the sole family breadwinner His current job is driving a bus around Newark Airport since his landscaping business failed. She wants his support for her writing and is hurt and enraged by his lukewarm support even though she's doggedly continued to write for nearly a decade now.
This heated domestic episode segues to a publishing office, where Jo recently submitted her Dragonscape manuscript and has been invited to meet with its two Norwegian publishers, Andreas Venler (Matt McGrath) and Sven Kandetty (Robert Sella). They tell her that they have read her fantasy novel and find her "voice fresh and raw—in a good way." And though they won't be moving forward with it (who can blame them, since it's clearly not very good!), they want her next effort. That next effort is to be a memoir, that would appeal to an international audience. And, oh yes. No embellishments. Their meticulous fact-checking has exposed concocted bogus memoirs in the past.
Jo is at first on the fence about the deal, suspecting that the publishers's talk about bogus might apply to them and that they see her as fair game for their own commercial ends. But after describing the book proposal to her husband and his sister Liz (Jeanine Serralles), who's also their landlady and lives in the same building), they persuade her to take this opportunity. In their view it's a quick-fix to their financial woes. You see, incredible as it seems, and in fact is, the memoir contract comes with an advance of fifty thousand dollars and a potential share in film rights).
And so, with a do-or-die attitude, Jo returns to the publishing office and signs the contract. What follows are her pell-mell adventures with living up to that contract's requirement.
This play couldn't be more timely, what with tell-all-memoirs flooding the book stores. So what if the writers stretch the facts to make their lives more exciting and appealing to gullible, hungry for excitement readers? Brian Williams' fiasco in the media headlines. If journalists like Brian Williams can if not invent facts, manipulate them, to enhance their profiles, why can't memoirists do the same?
Okay, so Jones' premise wears thin and begs credibility and protagonist Jo seems more a caricature than a fully-realized character. But the playwright does have fun persuading us to go along with its surreal and meta-theatrical touches.
No complaints when it comes to the acting! Anna Camp is well-cast in the lead role. She has the range and scope to play the wholesome wife and stay-at-home mom, and fledgling memoirist looking for ways to make herself a worthy subject. .
Danny Wolohan is just right as the husband and dad who is the epitome of a middle-class conservative. His Josh is the perfect foil to Jo's risk-taking character, especially when he suggests that the whole family should decamp to Myrtle Beach as a "colorful backdrop" for her memoir. Josh does indeed goes there with Lincoln in tow, but Jo stays behind and begins her adventure-spree. That includes a brief fling with a man Named Winston (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) who claims to be part of her past. Eager as Jo is to spice up her tame life, shecomes to suspect him of being a "plant" by the publishers. And so a new twist: our memoirist turns paramoid.
Jeanine Serralles is amusing as Josh's sister Liz who at first encourages Jo to go for the memoir deal and later tries to dissuade her from what she's doing to fulfill its demands. Robert Sella and Matt McGrath are deliciously sinister as the publishers whose signing this unknown, untalented writer to a $50,000 deal is quite a credulity stretchy. Ebon Moss-Bachrach is fine as the supposed "plant."
Oliver Hollmann may be pint-sized but his budding talent isn't. So don't be surprised if you see him on other New York stages in the future.< The production values are all in synch— from Andrew Boyce's protean set to Matthew Richards's clean lighting and Paloma Young's unpretentious costumes.
Jones is the first playwright of the New Year to be showcased at Lincoln Center's Claire Tow black-box theater, under the roof of the Vivian Beaumont. Coward, his first LCT3 production, snagged him a couple of Lucille Lortel Awards in 2010 and is currently being made into a motion picture. His Verité does get pretty lunatic in its goings-on, but its twists and turns are fun.
Since tickets to LTC3 shows cost only $20, this is a great deal, even when a play doesn't win a Pulitzer and transfer to Broadway as Disgraced did.