Scripter West Liang chronicles the three-year relationship of Jane and Joe, two comely twentysomething artists in L.A. Liang overanalyzes and overstates the social, professional and emotional demons that plague the relationship of this duo. But he displays infectious wit and a talent for communicating intriguing character interaction.

Scripter West Liang chronicles the three-year relationship of Jane and Joe, two comely twentysomething artists in L.A. with constantly shifting agendas. Liang overanalyzes and overstates the social, professional and emotional demons that plague the relationship of this love-challenged duo. But along the way, he displays infectious wit and a talent for communicating intriguing character interaction. Helmer Justin Huen admirably guides a talented ensemble through the complicated evolution of a fragile romance played out more in the mind than on solid ground.

In a pair of zesty expository opening scenes, Liang introduces Jane and then Joe, nervously preparing to meet each other for a blind-date dinner. The scenes could use some trimming, but each is imbued with humorous insights into the inner workings of two souls desperately wanting to connect with another human being.

Jane, an actress, is bombarded by the competing philosophical agendas at war within her psyche, played out simultaneously by Elizabeth Ai, Laura Hess and Lexi Karriker. Helmer Huen interweaves the three to great effect, allowing each to take proper focus while seemingly going through the nerve-wracking process of deciding what to wear and how to act as Jane is about to venture into unknown territory.

Liang communicates much more specific agendas for Joe, an aspiring writer, as he prepares for the evening. Pulsating within him is the immediate need to get laid (Ethan Mechare), the more tentative desire to establish something real with a woman (Liang) and a pugnacious resistance to spending any money (Parvesh Cheena) on a woman he most likely won’t see again. These imps from the id are highly aggressive in their desire to take charge of Joe, and Huen manages to keep them from bumping into each other.

Highlight of the production is the “dinner date,” played out in three captivating, often hilarious pas de deux confrontations.

The two children in adult bodies (Karriker and Mechare) jab at each other’s overt sexuality with no idea how to make contact. The more cerebral Jane and Joe (Hess and Liang) find more even footing when they probe each other’s intellect and creativity but still manage to keep each other at a distance. It isn’t until the more socially daring Jane (Ai) breaks through Joe’s defenses to reveal his distinct personality (Cheena) that the match is made, manifested by Jane jumping up on the table and pulling Joe’s head into her crotch.

The second act, set three years later, does not match the first in its veracity. As the six personas of the Jane/Joe duo lie asleep curled up together in bed, Joe’s imagined aging psyche (Esequiel Ruelas) laments over his failed writing career. Egging him on to make a drastic change in his life is Fate, played to the boozy hilt by Amy Lucas. Meanwhile, Jane in all her personas, is happily allowing herself to be serenaded by the wondrous promise of eternal Love (an emotionally nurturing Justin Huen).

The resulting series of confrontations between Jane and Joe are more thematically meandering than revealing. Liang inflicts these two deeply caring people with misshapen goals and insecurities that will lead each to arrive at decisions that will move them into a future neither wants.

Huen doesn’t need to resolve this work with a feel-good ending, but he does need to infuse his second act with the same thematic veracity as his promising first act.

The Legend of Jane & Joe

Ricardo Montalban Theater; 55 seats; $20 top

Production

An Agro.Culture Production, in collaboration with Delinquent Development, in association with Ivar Theater presentation of a play in two acts by West Liang. Directed by Justin Huen.

Creative

Sets and lights, Huen; sound, Liang. Opened Aug. 5, 2005. Reviewed Aug. 7; runs through Aug. 28. Running time: 1 HOUR, 40 MIN.

Cast

Jane - Elizabeth Ai, Laura Hess, Lexi Karriker Joe - Parvesh Cheena, West Liang, Ethan Mechare Older Joe - Esequiel Ruelas Love - Justin Huen Fate - Amy Lucas

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