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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Jumping For Joy
by Joseph Sirota

Allan Miller,Daniel Nathan Spector, and 
Deborah Van Valkenburgh
Allan Miller,Daniel Nathan Spector, and Deborah Van Valkenburgh
There's good reason for the anticipatory stir greeting the Laguna Playhouse's world premiere of Jon Marans' Jumping For Joy.. Like , Marans' much produced first Pulitzer Prize nominated play in 1996 (Old Wicked Songs about a classical pianist and his unexpectedly re-inspiring coach), it is also a bitter-sweet character probing work. Richard Stein, who also directed the West Coast premiere of Old Wicked Songs, helms the first rate cast.

Jumping for Joy has a deceptively simple plotline. Michael comes to his childhood home in Maryland from his New York apartment where he lives with his wife and child. He's been summoned by his older sister Emily, because their father, Sam has had a heart attack. We share two and a half days with the family of three (Mom's passed on), and come to see how bizarre the family members are individually and together. The centrally "identified patient" is Emily who years ago flipped out during a promising college career and has become whimsically but severely obsessive/compulsive. Father and son are hardly trouble-free either. Marans' astute writing and the excellent performances reveal , how sadly sick, yet seductive and often "fun" for them patterns have been built over the years. The question posed is Will Michael escape?

How much you'll enjoy Jumping for Joy will depend far more on your personal taste in plays than on the quality of the play's script or current production values. The writing is excellent -- arguably with numerous flashes of brilliance -- and the e artistic interpretation both comedically and probingly strong. But, the play overall may not be everyone's' cup of tea. It's decidedly non-linear with no convenient happy ending or, some may say, any ending at all.

Essentially, this is a delicately zany yet poignant slice of a thoroughly-dysfunctional, borderline-psychotic family's life. While not e clone of or as violent as Sam Shepard's True West, Marans' play delves into the odd chemistry of family ties, especially the "sicker" ties that defy simple logic or understanding, yet are very real, indeed. You might say, that Marans, like Shepard, here explores how we become used to the neuroses/psychoses we grow up with and which despite the pain they've left become automatic behavior and even dear to us and hard to abandon.. While I'm comparing, I would add that Marans is far more generous in his dishing out of humor, warmth and even insights per disturbing moment.

All who don't restrict their theatergoing to light fare, will find Jumping for Joy well executed and worth seeing. Deborah Van Valkenburgh captures both the draining and irresistible qualities of troubled but daffy Emily with wondrous acumen. Allan Miller similarly creates the perfect picture of a father who's three parts calculator to one part heart -- a compulsively over-organized and ritualized man who in his own way played and stayed at the center of the tribe. Daniel Nathan Spector as Michael exudes the dilemma of being the sanest family member, yet clearly not without his own bag of emotional scars. Director Richard Stein's pacing, movement and transitions capture the flow with humor and feeling.

Laguna Playhouse production values are as usual top notch. Don Gruber's scenic design of the family home is an attractive multi-story/multi-room completely supporting the action and feel of the homestead. Tom Ruzika's imaginative lighting guides our attention around the complex set, alerting us to what's happening simultaneously in different rooms --as when Emily literally jumps compulsively and incessantly for joy right above the heads of father and brother. David Edwards' sound design disperses dialogue and effects clearly throughout the large, very highly tiered theater.

Overall, there's much to like in this fine production, especially if you enjoy non-mainstream theater.

BY Jon Marans
Directed by Richard Stein
Cast: Allan Miller, Daniel Nathan Spector, Deborah Van Valkenburgh Set Design: Don Gruber
Costume Design: Julie Keen
Lighting Design: Tom Ruzika
Sound Design: David Edwards
Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes. One intermission
The Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, CA Phone: (949) 497-2787
Showtimes: Tues/Weds/Thurs 8 pm; Fri/Sat 8 pm; Sun 7 pm; Matinees Sat/Sun 2 pm.--through: Sunday October 6, 2002
Tickets: $42-to-$49
Reviewed by Joseph Sirota September 7, 2002
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