Jennifer Jasper’s Pressing Matters is like an artist’s sketchbook. Each of the six plays has strokes of brilliance, but none is fleshed out. Bound solely by the loose thread of “imponderables of love,” the event comes together as a frustrating and slightly sad illustration of what could be. There are compelling moments, but they are never sustained for long. The overall experience is more like a script being workshopped than a professional production. In fact, a post-performance feedback survey would not have felt out of place.
Each of Ms. Jasper’s short works is fashioned around a contrivance. In every segment, it takes several minutes to work out the central puzzle and then view the content through the correct lens. The most developed of the six pieces is Free Range, a humorous and thought-provoking courtroom monologue set in the near future. Jenn Harris fully commits to the role of Judy, a woman so riddled by anxiety that she takes squirming in a chair to new levels. 2014 Samual French Festival winner et●y●mol●o●gy holds together fairly well, with equal parts sweetness and shtick. In the case of Inheritance —a glimpse into the sociopolitical views of three generations of a family — by the time I worked out the scheme it was over. The other three — Oscar Clyde Denman, Thanksgiving in July, and Destination Unknown — kept going long after the point was made. I enjoy intellectual play, but by the end of Act One I was exhausted from all the mental gymnastics.
In addition to Ms. Harris, the cast includes Ito Ashayere, Molly Carden, Saum Eskandani, and Genesis Oliver. Each is given at least one meaty role. I found myself wondering how many of the artists were personal friends with Jasper or her crew. They are all obviously capable of giving superior performances given the opportunity.
More successful is the work behind the scenes. In fact, it is hard to fathom how this production would succeed at all without Amy Altadonna’s sense-of-place sound design or Grant Yeager’s targeted lighting. Parris Bradley has done an admirable job delivering appropriate set pieces on a clearly limited budget. Bringing it all together, director Adrienne Campbell-Holt makes the best of a small stage and gives her ensemble plenty of clever business to keep the energy up during scene changes.
I’m all for supporting emerging artists and giving new voices the opportunity to be heard. Theatre Row is to be applauded for granting the use of the hall to Ms. Jasper and her team. But unless you are inclined to be a very small patron of the arts, this is not a $49 experience. Instead I suggest that lovers of “quirky and fresh” check out the various discounted ticket offers available online. You’ll get a few laughs and the joy of live theater for less than the cost of a bargain matinee movie. And you won’t be quite as bothered by Pressing Matters’ many mood swings. The limited run ends on May 20, 2017. For information visit http://www.theatrerow.org/clurmannowplaying.