By Joan Beber; Directed by Katrin Hilbe
Produced by Undercover Productions
Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 8.26.17
Theatre Row's Clurman Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street
by Adrienne Urbanski on 7.23.17
Amanda Rose and Jenny Piersol in Dear Jane. Photo by Russ Rowland.
BOTTOM LINE: Despite trying to cover too much ground at once, this is a well-acted, emotionally-charged drama centered around one woman's life experiences as she tries to find her own path.
One recalls one’s life not in a linear fashion, but rather through significant moments scattered throughout time, sometimes revisiting them again and again as we reinterpret the events that comprise our past. This idea is at the heart of Dear Jane, a play within a play that sees an actor/playwright named Julie (Jenny Piersol) staging a play based on the major events of her life, a gimmick that allows her and the people close to her to revisit past events and discuss them.
The play begins with Julie’s theater company coming together to begin rehearsal on a play that depicts her life. The stage is marked off as a minimalist rehearsal space with makeshift props. Julie types away on her Macbook and also jumps onto the stage to reenact the significant moments of her life. The play starts off showing Julie and her twin sister Jane (Amanda Rose) growing up as children in constant competition with one another, a pattern that continues well into adulthood. The feeling of the play being something rehearsed, however, makes it more difficult to focus on; eventually, the frame drops away, the play-within-in-a-play just becomes a fully fleshed-out play on its own, and the characters begin to feel more full.
As a young adult, Julie etches out her own life away from Jane, attending college where she experiences a traumatizing sexual assault, for which her father shows minimal empathy. Post-college, she rushes into marriage and motherhood, leaving her abusive husband for a wealthier man whose behavior soon turns just as sour. As Julie searches for a bigger meaning in her life, she visits an incarcerated man on death row, sentenced to death for a crime he denies committing. He then follows Julie along as she calls out different years, jumping back and forth in time as she visits moments in her life. Somewhere in the mix are memories centered around her strained relationship with her daughter (Santina Umbach), who she sometimes didn’t always pay enough attention to as she ended her marriage and pursued her own creative and professional paths.
Dear Jane covers a lot of terrain for a play that clocks in at ninety minutes, following multiple threads of conflict and deep emotional turmoil. There are plenty of touching moments of dramatic tension, but perhaps too many to encompass in just one play, to the point where some important moments are sped through to get to the next one. This might, perhaps, be due to the fact that playwright Joan Beber based much of the play on her own life, writing in the playbill that the story is about her and her real life identical twin. There is an authenticity to the work and to the weight that it gives to sometimes seemingly innocuous moments. Honing in more on her sister and on their specific conflicts might strengthen this story and give greater weight to its drama.
Curiously, the play is titled after Julie’s identical twin, and Beber says she wrote it about her relationship with her own twin, but Jane is given little development, despite her being a pillar of perfection that Julie can never live up to. However, despite a disorienting beginning and lack of character development, Dear Jane becomes an enthralling play once it gains momentum. Under the direction of Katrin Hilbe, it features strong acting performances from a cast that takes on multiple roles of differing ages and jumps between different scenes and time frames with ease, quickly switching out props and scenery. There is a lot of rich, well-crafted material here, but I hope that for her next work playwright Joan Beber focuses more on relationships.
(Dear Jane plays at Theatre Row's Clurman Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street, through August 26, 2017. The running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 7:30; Fridays at 8; Saturdays at 3 and 8; and Sundays at 3. Tickets are $51.25-$61.25 and are available at dearjanetheplay.com or by calling 212-239-6200.)
Dear Jane is by Joan Beber. Directed by Katrin Hilbe. Set Design is by John McDermott. Lighting Design is by Gertjan Houben. Sound Design is by Andy Evan Cohen. Stage Manager is Giles T. Horne.
The cast is Holly Cinnamon, Jon Kovach, Jenny Piersol, Amanda Rose, Michael Romeo Ruocco, Brandon Timmons, and Santina Umbach.