Review: ‘Coke Free Jap’

What can be said about a 22-year-old Jewish-American princess who has been off her joy powder for 92 days and is about to go on her first blind date? A lot, according to scripter Fielding Edlow and her alter ego, Sage Saperstein. Edlow occasionally stumbles over her virtuoso material but offers a captivating portrayal of a soul in crisis.

What can be said about a 22-year-old Gotham-bred Jewish-American princess who has been off her joy powder for 92 days and is about to go on her first blind date? A lot, according to gifted scripter Fielding Edlow and her memorable alter ego, Sage Saperstein. Ragingly insecure, profoundly profane and seamlessly articulate, Sage is an unrelenting motor mouth who over the course of an evening travels an emotionally treacherous path to overcome her demons. Edlow occasionally stumbles over her virtuoso material but offers a captivating portrayal of a soul in crisis.

Helmer Craig Carlisle keeps Edlow’s cathartic journey moving realistically forward, capturing every transitional moment as Sage haltingly discovers there may be more to life than can be found at the end of a straw.

Edlow’s Sage looks like a fragile amalgam of Barbara Hershey and Minnie Driver. As she sits in her apartment, readying herself to face a man she met on the Internet, this nerve-racked city girl yearns for the days when she was “skinny, fun and coked up.”

It is fascinating to watch this attractive woman gush forth reams of self-loathing, imbued with hilarious observations about sex; drugs; psychoanalysis; and her pitiful parents, who exist in an “Upper East Side live-in divorce.”

Sage wears her rampant promiscuity like armor, declaring to the universe that she beds so freely, no man stands a chance of wounding her heart. Emphasizing the character’s casual wantonness, Edlow offers a flashback in which the 13-year old Sage tells her boyfriend “I love you” on the phone, then switches to an incoming call from another swain, happily informing him that she’ll come over and screw him but only if he breaks out his dad’s good booze. But through all the flippancy and profanity, Sage’s eyes exude a haunting plea to be saved.

The action shifts to a restaurant and Sage’s relentless efforts to get her date, Robbie, to dislike her so she won’t have to deal with him. When he asks her to tell him about herself, she replies by declaring that in college she was a double major — “date rape and cocaine.” The audience never sees or hears Robbie, only Sage’s ever-growing discomfort at the fact that “he is so nice.”

In a final effort to make him flee, she eschews having dinner in favor of locking themselves in the restaurant restroom to get the sex over with. She even details a course of carnal action that includes an interesting manipulation of the restroom’s sink.

As Sage painfully comes to realize the benignly persistent Robbie is not being put off by her facade, Edlow and Carlisle orchestrate the tentative rebirth of a soul endearing in its tenderness and veracity.

Adding welcome diversion to the proceedings are colorful voicemail messages from the denizens of Sage’s world. This device should be expanded into tangible characters.

In fact, “Coke-Free Jap,” which won best of fringe at the 2001 NYC Fringe Festival, has the legs to be developed into a larger, more complete legiter. As entertaining as Sage is, she’d be so much more compelling if she had to deal with a flesh-and-blood Robbie onstage.

Coke Free Jap

Complex Dorie Theater; 55 seats; $10 top

Production

A Lemonade Prods. presentation of a play in one act by Fielding Edlow. Directed by Craig Carlisle.

Creative

Sets and lights, Jeff Robinson; music and sound, Steve Altman. Opened Oct. 6, 2004; reviewed Oct. 13. Runs through Nov. 3. Running time: 60 MIN.

Cast

Sage Saperstein - Fielding Edlow
Recorded voices: Steve Altman, Ruth Otero, Harlene Marshall, Craig Carlisle.
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