The Number Jane
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
May 19, 2007
One of the many great things about the Spring Fever Festival is the opportunity it gives emerging artists to flex their muscles. Writer/performer Julie Katz does just that in her new (mostly) solo show, The Number Jane. Playing an impressive variety of characters, Katz shows how funny and versatile she is. If only the vehicle she's written for herself were as sharp and engaging as she is. As flattering as The Number Jane is to her as a performer, it also demonstrates that Katz the writer still needs some work.
Her breadth and range as an actress is not to be doubted, though. Among the myriad characters she plays are a bad stand-up comic, an anxiety-ridden motormouth doing speed dating, a brassy female construction worker catcalling to all the passer-by hunks, and a sexually precocious pre-teen making inappropriate classroom admissions about her summer vacation. Each one of these characters—as well as the many others she plays—is specifically fleshed out. She differentiates them from each other very well, and her frequent lighting-fast transitions from one to the next are especially striking.
There are also a lot of laughs in The Number Jane. Like the way the pre-teen confuses "fabrication" for "ejaculation." And, a TV journalist's straight-faced report about a woman suffocating herself with her own breasts. Later, the eager-to-please speed dater tells a potential suitor "I'd really like to be China, like, with an open-door policy." And, the stand-up comic's joke about why light bulbs make great pets is a keeper (like most of her jokes, it doesn't make any sense—which is the joke).
But, what does it all mean? Ah, there's the rub. The show's press release describes it as "the story of the discerning women who recognize the necessity for multiple role-playing in their everyday lives." I didn't necessarily find that to be true. Each of the women portrayed here struggles with their identity in some fashion, but none of them seems very eager or willing to take on a different one for the sake of comfort or ease. Maybe that's the point, or maybe it isn't. Either way, The Number Jane never fully states its purpose.
The play's episodic structure is also problematic. Almost none of the characters know each other, and we meet them all within their self-contained scenes. With little to no overlap, context becomes an issue. Since the play's theme is a little muddy, there never feels like there's any story arc or throughline for the audience to grab on to.
Taken individually, most of these scenes are very funny. Director Adam Laupus does a nice job with them, but he also seems stumped by the play's episodic nature, and is unable to tie them all together into a larger whole. There is also a second performer on hand, singer Sheila Carrasco, who is also funny and has a lovely voice. But, it's never made clear why she's there.
However, any show where someone sings "Lost in the Supermarket" (one of my very favorite songs by The Clash) is worth recommending. And, The Number Jane knows a thing or two about making people laugh (Katz and Laupus both have backgrounds in sketch comedy). Most importantly, though, these emerging artists are getting to flex their muscles. Catch them now so you can tell your friends you saw them when. I'm pretty sure we'll be hearing more from them in the future.