- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 8, 2003

Many were shocked by a recent report of a teenager committing suicide online, his drug overdose cheered and goaded on by cyberspace onlookers.
A similar shock is delivered in Neena Beber's new play, "Jump/Cut," a funny and troubling work directed by Leigh Silverman in a co-production by Woolly Mammoth and Theater J. Only this time, it is not an adolescent dare gone wrong it is a conscious decision among three persons who know each other intimately.
Does that make what happens at the end more or less morally reprehensible? Miss Beber, a former writer for MTV, declines to answer that question, opting instead to throw it all out there and allow audiences to wrestle with it themselves.
"Jump/Cut" centers on whether a person has a right to end his or her life and whether loved ones should intervene. In this, it resembles a hipper and more youthful version of Marsha Norman's play "'Night, Mother." In its presentation of moral and ethical conundrums, on the other hand, "Jump/Cut" is closer to the work of screenwriter-playwright Neil La Bute particularly "The Shape of Things," which received an electrifying production last fall at Studio.
Both Miss Beber and Mr. La Bute like to create false expectations, only to confound them in the end, like lulling you into thinking you are watching a savvy romantic comedy before delivering a jab to the conscience in the second act.
"Jump/Cut" starts out as an amiable work about three bright young people at a crossroads in their lives and careers. Told from the point of view of Paul (Eric Sutton), a filmmaker, the play uses the distancing aspects of movie language and techniques to frame his tale of friendship and personal responsibility.
Paul aspires to more than the lucrative purgatory of shooting commercials and industrial shorts. He wants to be a serious filmmaker. His girlfriend, Karen (Colleen Delany), needs either to get on the stick with her scholarly paper on the early days of iconic photography or to find something else outside academia that fulfills her. Paul's best friend, Dave (Michael Chernus)? He just wants to flop on the couch.
At first, Dave seems like your average slacker although he is quite brilliant and, as deftly played by Mr. Chernus, adorable in a rumpled, lost-boy sort of way until you realize he has been battling manic-depression since childhood. In a series of flashbacks, we see Dave whipping through the manic episodes and then crashing up, down, up, down the only constant being his friendship with Paul.
Clearly, Paul needs a jump-start, and Karen comes up with the idea of doing a documentary on Dave. The camera is on 24 hours a day, capturing Dave in his jags and torpors and also filming Karen's and Paul's reactions to living with the unpredictability of his illness.
When Dave decides to goose up the verite, "Jump/Cut" moves into the ambiguous realm of shifting loyalties, asking whether loving somebody is enough to save him.
All three want to make their mark on the world, but do they have the right stuff? Must they resort to shock in order to get noticed? In an age when reality TV shows, with their stunts and manufactured horrors, make up 40 percent of network programming, Miss Beber's play could not be more timely. Genius or worthy accomplishment aren't necessary for fame anymore not if you're willing to do something outrageous.
Yet "Jump/Cut" is more than a diatribe on our decadence; it seriously addresses the question of sanctioned suicide. If you have ever suffered from a chemical imbalance, you can empathize with Dave's plight. His psychotic episodes are getting more severe and unpredictable, and when Paul cheerily says that as long as there are new drugs there is hope, Dave knows the reality that with every new pill comes new side effects and further estrangement from what he considers his real self. Miss Beber must either have done meticulous research or known someone who is manic-depressive to have created such a clean, unsentimentalized character as Dave.
Paul's and Karen's struggles are less clearly delineated. Although both Mr. Sutton and Miss Delany are likable sorts, you never quite know what motivates their characters other than ambition. They are weakly drawn, little more than accessories to Dave. A monologue in which Karen wishes she were one of those devil-may-care girls hints at what makes her tick but the hint is left to dangle.
"Jump/Cut" fearlessly dives into provocative issues and ideas but somewhat timidly shies away from reaching conclusions. In its evasiveness, it ultimately fails the audience. The play needs shape, perspective and conviction. Otherwise, it's just producing arbitrary surges of emotion, and that sounds more like what Dave's illness does than like what drama is supposed to do.

WHAT: "Jump/Cut" by Neena Beber
WHERE: Woolly Mammoth at Theater J, 1529 16th St. NW
WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 3 and 7:30 p.m.
Sundays. Through March 30
TICKETS: $10 to $34

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