95/Turnpike/95: Chickens in Jersey
nytheatre.com review by Heather Lee Rogers
February 28, 2009
95/Turnpike/95: Chickens in Jersey is a funny play, but this production in the FRIGID Festival is hampered by some odd choices. The play is about two toll booth attendants on the New Jersey Turnpike (Milo and Jane) at their posts in the wee hours of the morning. The small stage is set with two fantastic, wooden-framed, rickety toll booths. Jane is the supervisor and takes her job very seriously. Milo is "a-courtin" and he decorates his booth and wears a bow tie with his safety vest to impress his love interest, Maria, whom he expects to drive through any minute in her hot red BMW. Jane is betting on a big, smelly truck full of chickens to come through first because it always comes through first as the symbolic "rooster of the turnpike." This is the setup for Part One.
Then there is a slight dip-and-back-up in the lights which is supposed to signify a blackout during a set change for Part Two. During this set change both booths are desecrated by chalk graffiti ("Maria" and hearts and such) and Jane's booth is draped with a couple of chains. For this elaborate set dressing, Ian Temple (as Milo) participates in character since he is the perpetrator of this desecration, while Jane is supposed to be asleep listening to her iPod. But during this interlude, crew members also come onstage and help with the set change and Helena Gleissner (who plays Jane) completely drops character to help out with the chain draping as well. Then she easily walks under the "chain" across her booth and goes back to sleep for the beginning of Part Two. When she wakes up she discovers that she is chained into her booth (by the two unconvincingly draped chains) and is furious with Milo for trapping her there in his peppermint schnapps-induced drunkenness. Though it was clear the audience was supposed to play along with all of this, suspending their disbelief to the limit, I wish it had been handled in a classier and more creative way...at least a darker blackout or another crew person so Jane could stay "asleep" would have helped. After this booth debauchery, the story gets more surreal in fun and interesting ways I won't divulge.
But here's the sticky part: this is a two-person play. Ian Temple as Milo is great. He's fun, goofy, and has a dead-on sense of comedic timing. He delivers his punchlines in terrifically unexpected and very funny ways. Helena Gleissner as Jane spoke her words so quickly I literally missed the first 15 minutes of her lines. Her supposedly New Jersey accent is like no accent I've ever heard anywhere, and it is so strong and so forced that it completely takes over her performance in sharp contrast to the relaxed and convincing work of her co-star.
95/Turnpike/95: Chickens in Jersey by Jeff Belanger and Amanda Sage Comerford is a funny play that deserves a second look in the future.