Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Jump Rope"

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note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Carl A. Rossi

"Jump Rope"

Reviewed by Carl A. Rossi


by John Kuntz
directed by Mat August

Kurt ….. Brooks Ashmanskas
Martin ….. Benjamin Evett
Alex ….. Bill Mootos

I have seen Boston’s John Kuntz onstage as an actor; JUMP ROPE, his latest play, is my first exposure to him as a playwright. Watching JUMP ROPE is akin to taking a trip where the getting there is far more satisfying than the actual destination: you may be disappointed upon arrival, but you’ll have to admit you saw and heard delightful things along the way.

Martin and Alex are an upscale Boston couple; Kurt is a likeable doofus from Allston. Martin, a cold fish, and Alex, warm and outgoing (at least, on the surface), have reached a dead end in their 13-year relationship. Kurt delivers bottled water for a living, skips rope for exercise, wears women’s clothes in private and has yet to find the Big Love. All three characters confide in the audience: Alex, about being disowned by his parents for his coming out and that Martin has not once ever said “I love you” to him; Martin, his fear of intimacy, especially towards Alex; Kurt, his bad streak on the dating scene. There is a fourth character: an offstage serial killer, whose victims are gay, white men in their 30s. Kurt becomes romantically involved with both Martin and Alex (often in a “split” bed), with tragicomic results (a jump rope, a butcher knife, and an iron poker are planted well before intermission).

Mr. Kuntz sketches in his characters (with the emphasis on “sketch”; Act One is essentially a series of blackouts) with wit, insight and not a little bitchery; he beautifully captures Martin and Alex’s alternating bouts of boredom and playfulness, and Kurt’s wry, shrugging romanticism – the Playwrights’ little auditorium soon rings with the laughter of recognition. But in Act Two, Mr. Kuntz the Playwright trips up Mr. Kuntz the stand-up comic; after playing a shell game of whether or not Kurt (who calls himself “Steve” for some reason) is the serial killer, Mr. Kuntz serves up a twist of an ending (“twisted”, indeed!) that may be pat and darkly amusing but unravels all that has gone before, especially the ruefully-true observations of the Martin-Alex relationship. Mr. Kuntz does have a “voice”, however, and after seeing him grow this summer as an actor (Fluellen in CSC’s production of HENRY V), I look forward to more of his plays, which, no doubt, he will continue to turn out at an admirable pace – and may their destinations prove as worthy as the trips to get there.

Director Matt August keeps the action flowing despite JUMP ROPE’s many blackouts, and Benjamin Evett (Martin), Bill Mootos (Alex) and Brooks Ashmanskas – whose Kurt skips a mean rope to the songs of Blondie – make up a terrific little ensemble, though the end of Act Two forces them to shift into a completely different play. Cristina Todesco has designed a simple but lovely set, complete with a plastic-wrapped couch (Martin’s obsession) and that handy set of pokers conveniently behind a side table – where would this household keep the kindling?

"Jump Rope" (2 - 18 August)
Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Avenue (at Boston University), BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 499-7785

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide