You just can't believe everything you hear these days. For example, those rumors about the off-Broadway hit "Bridge and Tunnel" being a one-woman show. It's not. Fact of the matter is, for the past several months at off-Broadway's 45 Bleeker St. Theatre, virtuoso extraordinaire Sarah Jones rather convincingly assumed 14 different characters to pull off her amazing (OK, we'll admit it.) one-woman show.
In 80 minutes the 29-year-old playwright/actress transformed herself into a menagerie of immigrant poets who gather for one night at a New Jersey cafÈ for a slam poetry reading. The characters Jones creates in her head are not just caricatures with funny accents. It is Jones's precision and obsession with detail and her own social political voice that pushes her to the realm of the over-the-top talent.
"Bridge and Tunnel" opened in February and closed in August. Jones is currently touring. However, Bridge and Tunnel is Broadway bound. The play introduces the audience to a menagerie of eccentric poets who slam, whisper and confess all their inner idiosyncrasies, desires and perspectives. Jones first introduces the audience to Mohammed Ali, a good-natured Pakistani accountant, poet and the master of ceremonies for the evening's line up of poets. Ali delivers bad jokes that make the audience groan as he introduces the poets. A brief pause and Jones disappears. Suddenly a single intimate light comes up and like a chameleon Jones becomes elderly Mrs. Lorraine Levineóa polish Jewish woman whose story of genocide and discrimination in America is not just moving, it makes the audience forget the actress/instrument through which the story is being told.
It is the shaking hands punctuating the air, slouched and aged posture teetering off the stage chair, the finite gestures that reveal that Jones is a skilled observer who draws the audience into the worlds she creates. Jones's characters are not always so serious, some are absurd and eccentric. Sashaying Gladys Bailey from Jamaica is a self-proclaimed "poet, performer, playwright, spoken-word artist and actress" who performs a hilarious performance piece called "Cold," an ode to coming from Jamaica to New York City in the winter. Jones captures the vulnerability of 15-year-old Jacinta, a 9th grader from Harlem whose growing pains are more than physical, but societal as well. With wide masculine stance and a Midwestern accent, Jones portrays Bao, a Vietnamese-American man who rages against stereotypes of Asian men. Each character Jones instills subtle detail, a stance, a gestureóa swaying gait.
Perhaps more compelling than Jones's ability to impersonate so many souls is the poetry she uses to do so. Jones's poems are lyrical and filled with a raw knowingness as she addresses issues of xenophobia, housing discrimination and homophobia. The work of a true observer, Jones words are enriched with a reverence and respect that pulls an audience into her characters. An audience trapped in everyday life that does not have a thing in common with her characters is made to travel the space that society often puts between us. Jones is a word conjurer, a social critic, obsessed with observation. This medium which she negotiates is neither mockery or mimicry, but observant reverence and the bridge which her own audience will have to traverse.
With Meryl Streep as co-producer, Jones has extended past the local theatre community and will open her show on Broadway in March 2005. She also is scheduled to appear on Bravo this month in a sketch comedy based on characters from her plays. With these projects in the works, Jones's days of obscurity are numbered.