note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Larry Stark
Written by John Kuntz
Directed by Matt August
Lighting Design by Nicole Pearce
Scenic Design by Cristina Todesco
Sound Design by T. J. Derham
Costume Design by Kristin Glans
Fight Choreography by Cliff Allen
Production Stage Manager Catherine A. Kemp
I think John Kuntz' newest is the play Boston --- Boston's critical cohort, at least --- has been waiting for: it is a solidly, intriguingly original play by an artist who not only grew into maturity here but who has Stayed Here rather than skipping off to the Apple or the Other Coast to make his name. I think "Jump Rope" will go on to productions in many other cities that will probably be better received, critically, than it is here. It is a play that many different actors and different directors can have pleasure working with --- in other words, a play that doesn't sound as though only Boston's pre-eminent (male) monologist could say his own lines properly. Good actors everywhere will probably fight for the privilege of slipping into these characters and walking around inside them. [The play, quite simply, has legs.]
All three people here are gay men in their thirties, prey to the secrecy, infidelity, promiscuity and fear of loneliness that still dominate gay life in contemporary America. The couple celebrating thirteen years together are typical in that they represent two different definitions of intimacy --- one mostly physical, the other mostly conversational. That difference accounts for the bickering and discontents between them, and motivates the plot. The fact that people rarely know Every Little Detail of even the people they live with accounts for the show's continual surprises. But all three are intensely realistic, interesting people an audience can care about and get involved with. [Translation: this is a good play.]
Structurally, it consists of brilliantly economical bits and bursts of confrontation interspersed with revealing confessional speeches for which characters step into isolated solo-spots to comment or explian. Throughout the first act, in which the taciturn of the pair meets someone he is surprised to find he can talk to, the audience is busy discovering what apparently makes each one of these people tick. Then comes a genuinely explosive "first act closer" scene that throws everything into the air, and most of act two consists of quick scenes in bed, with the middle figure pillow-talking with first one then the other, the incredibly precise lighting of Nicole Pearce isolating pairs as neatly as it did the solo-spots earlier. [This sort of thing will be handled, in the inevitable movie this will become, with cuts and dissolves; live on stage, however, it is a much more powerful experience.]
Events at the ends of each act turn the play on its head and bounce the audience like a basketball. People may feel manipulated because things they didn't know get sprung upon them as though the author were playing one elaborate game in order to pull off a single joke. That is the only insincerity in this grittily honest script. However, the points at which characters suddenly behave differently than expected feel more like a more elaborate unfolding of characters, since retrospect suggests that all the clues were always there --- but the vividness of the characters masked their importance.
Perhaps I say that merely because Matt August directed this production so skillfully. But then, perhaps it's so because of the performers. Benjamin Evett is the aloof, passive-aggressive, distant one here; Bill Mootos the socially gifted, open one ("Isn't it odd that my own grandmother likes my lover more than she does me"); and Brooks Ashmanskas is the emotional drifter hoping for a real relationship ("None of my affairs have ever lasted more than three months"). The quick, short scenes are everywhere loaded with hints and subtexts that this trio conveys with startling clarity, so that the tensions are obvious to an audience that, seeing all sides, aches to see them resolved.
I will not retail the plot. If you care at all about good theater you will seek out this play before it moves on to other, bigger cities, and I have told already enough to spoil the experience of it a little. If you don't really care much about theater, I'm certain other critics will blow all the surprises so you will be able to discuss the show (and what they will refer to as its "shortcomings") without experiencing it first-hand at all. But this is probably the play in which our own John Kuntz comes of age, the home-grown play that puts Boston at last on the theatrical map. And in later years, when people mention the newest work by John Kuntz, it might be nice to be able to answer "Yes, I saw his 'Jump Rope' back in Boston in '02 and knew at that moment that he was destined to do great things. Isn't he wonderful!"