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A CurtainUp Review
Bridge & Tunnel

Sarah Jones Brings Her Downtown Hit to Broadway

Sarah Jones Sarah Jones Sarah Jones
Photos: Paul Kolnik

After an enormously successful downtown run, and a delay approaching two years, the first question one might ask is why Bridge & Tunnel is now on Broadway. Secondarily, for those legions of people who saw it during its seven-month run at The Culture Project, is there anything to be missed now that it is (briefly) in residence on 44th Street?

To the first, the simple answer is that Bridge & Tunnel is the sort of enterprise that "ought" to be seen on Broadway. Downtown, the sense of the show was that it was taking its audience behind the faces of the polyglot of humanity the audiences encounters daily on the subway. Uptown, it's more that a window is being opened into the connection between today's huddled masses and the immigrant parents, grandparents or great-grandparents of those now comfortably situated in the American dream all those immigrants were seeking from the outset. The bridge, as it turns out, is a character named Lorraine Levine. Her message: remember: what you are thinking about them is what they used to say about us.

What follows Lorraine shows off Sarah Jones' remarkable skill as a chameleon-like artist of the form, and as an observer. It is not uniformly effective, but enough of it is to keep us focused on her broader subject. At times, her characters to lack the antagonism we might expect, and at times they traffic in self-deprecating stereotypes. But isn't this what many immigrants do? What she does not do is get preachy -- which we might also expect.

There are some updates from the show seen at The Culture Project. Some are obvious -- like the Jamaican woman's pointed alignment of the similarities between being Secretary of State and a nanny, or the Russian man's reference to his Russian poetry about the government spying on people that perhaps now deserves an English-language sequel. There is also a renewed sense of meaning in the Pakistani accountant's telephone calls from home, in which he evokes personal terror at the news that it seems the government is starting to stalk him as a putative terrorist. The show also boasts new production values -- the set has been designed by the estimable downtown designer David Korins in his uptown debut while the lights have been designed by Broadway vet Howell Binkley -- but the effect is certainly far from drastic. Should previous audiences return? Perhaps, but not with any expectation of revloutionary change in what they experienced before.

For finding a way to bring a project like this to Broadway, even if for a short stay, the producers are entitled to their own round of applause.

Production credits and information for the Broadway run follow.

Set Design: David Korins
Lighting Design: Howell Binkley
Sound Design: Christopher Cronin
Helen Hayes Theatre, 240 W. 44th St (7th/8th Avs)
Telephone: (212) 239-6200
From 1/12/06 to 3/12/06; opening 1/26/06 Extended to 7/09/06 -- and again to 8/06/06
Running Time: 90 minutes
Tickets: $86.25 (with front row orchestra seats and student tickets available at the box office on the day of performance for $26.25)
TUES @7, WED - SAT @8, SAT @2 and SUN @ 3 & 7
---Les Gutman

-- The review of Bridge & Tunnel during its Off-Broadway Run --

No matter what, here in America we have freedom to say what we want, be what we want, to decide what happens in our country. We even get to decide what happens in other people's countries. There's no other place like it.
--- Lorraine one of the many characters in Bridge and Tunnel
Sarah Jones
Sarah Jones
(Photo: Brian Michael Thomas)
Simply put, Sarah Jones is stellar. From start to finish, she is a truly transcendent, elegant performer. Her attention to detail pushes her characters well beyond stereotypes and typical traps of solo plays.

Jones' talent is no mystery to many informed theater goers. Though she has had a very limited number of productions, certain theater circles treat her as a known entity. With Bridge and Tunnel produced under the auspices of The Culture Project in conjunction with Meryl Streep, she is reaching the larger audience she deserves.

The formula for Bridge and Tunnel is not a new one: Jones is both playwright and solo performer, portraying multiple characters of varying ages, race, gender and perspective. Comparisons to any number of other one-woman playwright- performers are obvious: Lily Tomlin, Anna Deavere Smith, Whoopi Goldberg, Heather Woodbury. . . the list could go on. The accuracy of such comparisons lies in the talent that all these women possess; their ability to transform before our eyes. Some performers are loved because they portray endearing incarnations of themselves over and over. Thus, while we watch Julia Roberts movies to watch Julia Roberts, we fall in love with Jones because, like her comparative counterparts, she's so damn good at playing a multitude characters.

Bridge and Tunnel is structured as an immigrant poetry reading taking place at the Bridge and Tunnel Café. Jones performs a series of monologues, taking on the persona of the evening's host as well as all of the guest performers. Some of the guests we meet are accountant Mohammed Ali (no relation to The Ali), slam poet Bao Viet-Dinh, retired Long Island Lorraine Levine, burned-by-love Monique Barnes. Though the premise may sound contrived, bear in mind that this show is not about story line but about stories -- very personal stories with distinctly individual perspectives.

Through poems, prefaces, speeches and performance art, Jones patches together large and small pieces of the varied American immigrant experience. Many of these stories pull at the heart strings. A particularly poignant speech is by a mother about her children.

As a playwright, Jones has crafted her material carefully, with just the right amount of foreshadowing and humor. The set and costumes are simple and uncomplicated. Tony Taccone's direction is specific and calibrated, focused on the personality-defining details of every character. It's an incredibly polished piece that never becomes slick but instead provideds easy viewing and for each story's message time to sink in.

I left the theater with a lot of thoughts whirling through my head. In truth, we are all somehow immigrants for this is a country created by those leaving their countries. And this production successfully addresses our country's unpatriotic, terror-filled actions of recent times. In Bridge and Tunnel many current forms of bigotry were presented on the personal level, and as pieces of a whole problem, all were equally valid. Now if only all 2005 presidential candidates could come see Sarah Jones

Bridge and Tunnel
Written and Performed by Sarah Jones
Directed by Tony Taccone
Conceived by Sarah Jones and Steve Colman
Lighting Design: Alexander V. Nichols
Sound Design: Chris Meade and DJ Rekha
Scenic Painting: Blake Lethem
Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes, no intermission
The Culture Project, 45 Bleecker Street Theatre at Lafayette Street. 212.253.9983, or 212.307.4100
Open-ended run, from 2/04/04; opening 2/19/04
Mon, Wed, Thurs, Fri, Sat at 8PM, Sundays at 7PM and Saturdays at 4PM.
Tickets are $45, with limited general seating at $25
Spring 2004 schedule: Tuesday through Saturday at 8 PM; Matinees on Saturday & Sunday at 3 PM. --Tickets$50.50
Reviewed by Amanda Cooper based on February 11th press performanceperformance.

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