- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 26, 2002

A play about love staged during the blue days of January seems as unnecessary as Valentine's Day candy on store shelves the day after Christmas.
Yet, "On the Jump" by John Glore is just what we need a breath of tender spring air in the midst of winter. Despite an imperfect script, the production is a peach. Wendy Goldberg's fluid, quick-witted direction of the Arena Stage production strikes the right balance between screwball comedy and wistful romance.
That is no easy feat on Arena's Fichandler Stage, which seems particularly cavernous during this production. The play needs intimacy, the pinging off each other that a small space affords. On a less grand stage, the play's missteps might not be as glaring.
Miss Goldberg envelops you in a confection cloud of love and dreams come true. Especially in Act I, you are so swept away that you nearly forget that the plot contains holes through which Cupid could shoot an entire quiver of arrows. By Act II, even though the characters are as engaging as ever, you begin to wonder if playwright Glore will be able to tie everything up.
No, he won't, but the play based on a story by Amy Dunkleberger, Mr. Glore's wife is new. He's likely to jump on the shortcomings and eventually do it right.
"On the Jump" is a variation on the mistaken-identity scenario that rather reminds you of the movie "While You Were Sleeping." "Jump" concerns the cursed-in-love Colleen Ferguson (Andrea Anders), who is so bad at picking men that her new husband robs her and leaves her on their wedding night.
The negligee-clad Colleen finds herself on a bridge. As she stands on the beam in her fluffy slippers, she notices a young man (David Barlow) about to do the same thing. She calls out, "Stop," and talk about your bad luck he's startled and falls into the drink.
Colleen feels it is her duty to give his overcoat and other effects to his relatives. They turn out to be the man's grandparents and are fabulously wealthy and nice folks, to boot. Albert (Bernie Passeltiner) and Arabella (Victoria Boothby) are under the impression that Colleen is their grandson's widow, and they welcome her into the family with open arms and pockets.
Colleen has a moment of conscience, which is relieved by her street-smart, go-for-the-gusto roommate, Dorie (Holly Twyford). So she lives a well-upholstered lie and even starts to enjoy hanging out with the lonely grandparents, until she reads some of the dead man's letters written to an imaginary woman named Roxanne and falls in love with him.
Crazier convolutions occur in Act II, as unexpected people show up and Colleen digs herself in deeper and deeper to keep the deception going.
The major problem with "On the Jump" is length. Charming as the dialogue is Mr. Glore has a way with the quirky line no modern romantic comedy should have a running time of 2 hours and 40 minutes. What you get is too much of Colleen's dithering about whether to come clean. This strains the credulity of the plot, since the longer she wavers the longer the nice grandparents are being taken for a ride. That's not funny, it's cruel. You begin to think that Colleen might have a taste for the con, after all.
Colleen's motivations are the biggest flaw. As time passes, the more Colleen seems manipulative, whiny and spineless. Even though she is the play's heroine, she doesn't seem to deserve the play's happy ending.
Colleen has a bit of Cinderella in her, and Miss Anders, with her blond curls and adorable smile, embodies the fairy-tale figure but Cinderella at least had some backbone and endured much toil and heartbreak before her princely reward. Colleen seems more like a gold digger.
It is not surprising that the supporting roles ring true. Miss Twyford beguiles as the gutsy, plain-speaking Dorie. Michael Russotto plays myriad bit parts with individuality and great charm, especially the philosophical street bum clad in a woman's coat. Naomi Jacobson is a scream as the dead man's tarted-up landlady. She does more with silence and a gesture than some of the other actors do with long monologues.
If you can not only suspend disbelief but hogtie it and wrestle it into the trunk of your car, "On the Jump" is a dizzying and engaging play about two misfits who are made for each other.

***
WHAT: "On the Jump"
WHEN: Every day except Mondays through Feb. 17; times vary
WHERE: Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SW
TICKETS: $27 to $45
PHONE: 202/488-3300
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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