There’s a kernel of a good idea in Constance Congdon’s new play, “Paradise Street,” and it concerns how close the haves are to the have-nots and how swiftly societal positions can be reversed. But this idea is presented via a frankly unbelievable plot that’s so unfocused that one of the main characters gets lost in the tangle. The world premiere production by Title3 features some strong and amusing performances, and this new company shows promise, but the scattershot quality of the play overshadows this enterprise.
The life of visiting Marxist feminist theory/Mayan history professor Jane (Molly Leland) is about to change for the worse after she brings dour stranger TJ (Lane Allison) in out of the rain into her faculty housing apartment. TJ demands Jane’s car, and when the teacher refuses, TJ bashes her over the head with a stone statuette. Jane has to cope with permanent brain damage, while TJ’s life changes even more since she is mistaken for Jane and decides to play the part, reveling in a feeling of respect and power she’s never had before.
In an excellent performance, Leland succeeds at portraying Jane’s initial blithe condescension to TJ and her later deep frustrations with having to re-create her life piece by piece. So it’s frustrating when the play shunts the character to the sidelines as the action progresses.
TJ, representing the undereducated and angry poor, is written as an unpleasant thug, and Allison unfortunately doesn’t expand the role past that narrow description, although she has some fun with the character’s dark humor. Jane Montosi impresses both as a sympathetic but unlucky hitchhiker and a terminology-slinging professor, while Danielle Kennedy makes an indelibly hilarious mark as Jane’s elderly and selfish mother, who expects her newly handicapped daughter to do everything for her. Finally, Jiehae Park and Lorene Chesley turn in strong and funny work in multiple roles.
Although Congdon provides some clever moments, there are simply too many things stuffed into this overlong show, and the work never coalesces into a greater whole. Late in the play, TJ delivers a couple of speeches that make it seem as if we’re supposed to be empathetic to TJ’s plight. The character as written has been so morally repugnant up until then that this late bid for sympathy fails. Also, the main plot contrivance of students and faculty mistaking TJ for Jane, albeit an amusing bit of business, is simply unconvincing.
Director Courtney Munch keeps the focus on the performances, but a couple of strobe light sequences are singularly ineffective. At the performance reviewed, sound effects started and stopped and started again, sometimes within one scene, which was an unnecessary distraction.