nytheatre.com review by Heather Lee Rogers
August 14, 2011
Life Insurance is a fine solo play written and performed by Joel Jones. It weaves between the monologues of three different characters who are all independently connected to a motorcycle crash on a country road in Virginia. The play highlights the beauty of simple storytelling and solid acting to explore the big ideas of mortality, service and sacrifice.
The first character we are introduced to is the successful salesman who sold the victim his life insurance. He is smart, proud, well-off, and speaks to the audience as if he was hanging out with us in a bar. He educates himself in classic literature through audio books and weaves anecdotes about Charlemagne into his sales pitches. He has learned to stop apologizing for his job and that compassion makes a society civilized.
The second character is the community volunteer firefighter who was the first responder to arrive at the crash sight… only to be belittled there by the EMT who bullied him in high school. He lives with his Mom, fixes engines in her basement and believes everything his local pastor tells him. All he wants is to help people in some useful way—be it by rescuing them in an emergency or by praying for them.
The third character is the driver who called 911 when he saw the accident but didn’t stop his car. He is a scientist. When his wife got tenure and he didn’t, he left the university research department they both worked in and began coaching students taking standardized tests instead. The trouble is, now he feels like his wife doesn’t relate to him as a colleague anymore but she does want a baby. So they go to a fertility doctor that believes in yoga and dream catchers instead of a doctor more rooted in “science,” which he feels is a betrayal of everything he gave up for her.
All three characters are performed with detailed precision in physicality and vocal choices. It is a treat to see Jones switch between them quickly and cleanly while endowing each one with their own fully invested emotional journey. The writing is also very good—peppered with humor, heart and profound observations on life and death. The work overall is simple, honest and thoughtful. At a quick 40 minutes it’s an easy show to fit into your FringeNYC schedule and you’ll be glad you did.