Review: The New Play ‘Jump’ Swings Far From the Stereotypical Tropes and Shifts the Narrative About Grief, Suicide, and Mental Illness

By Kim Jackson

A play about a family dealing with grief could slide easily into melodrama. Fortunately, Charly Simpson’s new play Jump, swings far from the stereotypical tropes. Heartstrings are not just plucked but shifted, and the reverberations are felt far longer than the final bows.

But this is not a sentimental piece, which is obvious from the imaginative set design by Alex Distler. A section of a city bridge dominates the back of the stage while the suggestion of a childhood home being abandoned flows underneath. The fluidness of the space opens up the possibilities of movement and events follow a meandering course, swirling around much like grief which is never a linear process. Director Whitney White deftly handles the innovative script, allowing the theatricality to emerge organically.

When the audience is introduced to Fay, a young African-American woman, she is vaping on a bridge and methodically dropping the instruments of her addiction over the side. April Mae Davis hits all the right notes in her portrayal of this millennial who is coping with the death of her mother. Her father is selling the house she grew up in, and she copes with the loss of her mother by visiting the bridge her mother took her to as a child. She is a tour guide of sorts on a sometimes surreal journey where conversations are replayed, memories are revisited, and new experiences usher in new and needed connections.

And it is the idea of connecting, or the lack thereof, that are the undercurrents of Simpson’s script as Fay navigates through the past and present. She engages in typical sibling banter with her older sister, Judy, who appears confident and polished. Shanelle Nicole Leonard strikes the appropriate chords with her wonderfully nuanced portrait of Judy. Their grieving father, played with the perfect amount of prickly restraint by Trevor Johnson, finds solace in the bottle as he stumbles in his attempts to reconcile with Fay. They are imprisoned by their pain, unable to honestly communicate and be truthful with each other.

Ultimately, the bridge becomes a part of the drama. It is here where Fay retreats as lights flicker and her consciousness becomes suspect. It is here where she meets a stranger, a tense young man named Hopkins, who is also on the edge of despair and contemplating life, in the most literal sense. Adam Poole invests Hopkins with a sober, pragmatic soul, and his performance is truly moving. His interactions with Davis’s Fay captures what is most profound about this play, the juxtaposition between the difficulty of connecting when you are drowning in loneliness and the hope of finding a place where connection, truth, and healing prevail.

Listen to the RDU on Stage podcast featuring Playwright Charly Evon Simpson and Director Whitney White.

Jump runs through February 10th at PlayMakers Repertory Company. For more information visit: http://playmakersrep.org/.

Leave a Reply