Does Anyone Know Sarah Paisner?
nytheatre.com review by Josh Sherman
February 21, 2008
Putting extra emphasis on the "psycho" portion of the word psychodrama, Intravenous Theatre takes a look at a woman trying on new personalities with the risky new one-act play Does Anyone Know Sarah Paisner? by Jennifer Lane. Lane's conceit of a small-town Ohio woman leaving her former life behind for the urban jungle of New York has some promise, and there are a few moments in Sarah Paisner that are startling. But sadly, there aren't enough of them to sustain interest for even the short run time of one hour and fifteen minutes, making Sarah Paisner hard to recommend.
We begin with Ginger tapping away on her laptop, apparently browsing the personal ads of Craigslist. A choice has been made to personify the ads with something of a Greek chorus whose members each have some sort of deviant and/or loser personality. When Ginger stands up, she immediately removes a bloody shirt that she's wearing and stuffs it underneath the couch. Enter roommate Ella, who has a poorly concealed crush on Ginger, despite knowing that Ginger has a boyfriend of sorts in Wray. Things get legitimately interesting when Ella exits and a bloody, scarred woman pops up from behind a pile of boxes with Ginger's things in them and literally haunts Ginger.
Unfortunately for Lane and director Elyzabeth Gorman, the plot goes in fits and starts when it tries to explain both the motives of Ginger's seemingly psychotic behavior and the presence of the blood-scarred woman. Sarah Paisner gives us a few flashback sequences to illuminate the back story, but the play goes around in circles for far too long before getting there. When we finally learn the details of Ginger's life and why she left Ohio, it's narrated rather than shown to us. (I have to ask the obvious—why is Ginger's former husband James a mere voiceover if there's already been flashbacks?) The Greek chorus of personal ads take away momentum from the mystery being slowly revealed onstage.
There are a few bright spots in Sarah Paisner. Alana Jackler as the scarred woman prowls the stage while stalking Ginger, and she is a lot of fun to watch in this role. She looks like a younger Kate Walsh (Gray's Anatomy/Private Practice) and sounds a heck of a lot like Sarah Michelle Gellar—and looks appropriate as a creepy, bloody living corpse. Kathryn Merry, as Ginger, is carrying the show, but playing a recluse who refuses to open up really limits her abilities to endear herself to the audience. When Gorman finally does let her loose in a late scene on a pay phone, you can finally feel a rush of empathy for the Ginger character, but it feels like too little, too late. The role of Wray is played with a boy-next-door look by Jason Odell Williams, but I can't help but wonder how much more interesting of a relationship there would be between him and Ginger if he were a creepy dime-store internet perv instead. And as hard as I tried, I couldn't see the relevance of Lane making the open, fun character of Ella romantically interested in a closed-off character like Ginger.
Sarah Paisner turned out to be a bit of a frustrating experience because I felt like there were some interesting ideas at work in the piece. They just don't tie together well enough at this point to justify a full production. For us to care about the play's protagonist Ginger, I think we need to see more of the pain that she's been through in order for her to reach the low, depressing points of the end of Sarah Paisner. Only then will we really be interested to "know" her.