The Late Education of Sasha Wolff
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
May 17, 2007
Porn star Jenna Jameson makes a pair of memorable appearances in Shonni Enelow's enjoyable new comedy, The Late Education of Sasha Wolff. Not the real Jenna Jameson, mind you—it's actress Bianca Leigh playing Jameson (and quite well, I might add). Both times she appears as a figment of the title character's imagination: first, to spur Sasha on to revolution; then later, to deliver the moral of the story (which, it turns out, Sasha has gotten all wrong). It's an interesting idea that plays well in the moment, but made me wonder afterwards what might have happened if Enelow had gone even further—not just with that, but with all the other ideas bursting the seams of her fun but undernourished play.
Sasha is a listless Brooklyn teen with an active imagination. He longs "to do something different. Something important and real," but he doesn't know what. After he sees Jameson on TV, she comes to him in a vision and inspires him to pull the Patty Hearst-style abduction of a young heiress, Patrice Houston. Aided by his scrappy friend, Jenny, Sasha forms The Swimsuit Devotional Army, a radical political organization that claims "everyone born after 1974 must own a swimsuit." In homage to the legendary Hearst kidnapping, Patrice starts out as their hostage, but eventually joins their ranks, as these three upstarts go on the lam and hit all points between Brooklyn Heights and Beirut.
Enelow, I think, is aiming for satirical cultural commentary here, specifically America's obsession with fame. Sasha and Jenny want to be on TV, but neither can "sing or dance," as Jenny points out. So, they kidnap someone instead. But, why do they want to be famous in the first place? That's where Sasha Wolff runs into a little trouble. It's intimated that today's media brainwashes the masses into believing that beauty, perfection, and notoriety are the only things worth achieving, but the play never offers a concrete thesis.
Nor is it ever explained why Enelow has chosen Jameson as Sasha's patron saint (as opposed to some other accepted paragon of feminine beauty). Or why Hearst serves as muse for both the playwright and her characters. Or, most importantly, why this story is being told. Running a streamlined sixty minutes, Sasha Wolff is that rare play that I think would actually benefit from being longer. If Enelow were to give herself an opportunity to explore the themes and ideas of her play more fully, I think she could really be on to something.
Thankfully, director Josh Hoglund's production is distinctly engaging. He creates a surreal, freewheeling world where anything can (and frequently does) happen. From an impromptu dance number in a Lebanon nightclub to a porn star toting a machine gun, you will find it all here. Excellent set and video design by Sayaka Nagata and Sunita Prasad provide the proverbial icing on the cake. And, actors Orion Taraban (Sasha), Stacey Karpen (Jenny), and Nicole D'Amico (Patrice) lead a talented seven-person cast with their terrific performances.
Whatever misgivings I may have about it, The Late Education of Sasha Wolff is funny and a lot of fun. Let its plucky, delirious energy sweep you away. Or, in the words of Jameson, "insert yourself into the vaudeville and live your life like a landmine."