Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
It's a snowy night in a Dunkin Donuts on a deserted stretch of highway in Massachusetts where Nan (Nancy Robinette), the overnight manager, awaits her teenage employee, Lili (Annie Fang). The only customers are Jennifer (Kimberly Gilbert), a nurse's aide, and Joey (Floyd King), her aggrieved patient, stranded together in the storm and waiting for a tow truck.
Robinette, who received the Helen Hayes Tribute for her more than 40 years on Washington area stages, is a marvel. Look at the shifting of her eyes and her facial expressions as she converses by phone with her husband, advising him yet again how to heat up the dinner she prepared and left for him in the refrigerator. See how her posture slumps when young Lili makes a thoughtless remark about not wanting to spend her life working in a donut shop. Then see her break loose for a few moments, turning up the radio and, while mopping the floor, getting into the groove to ABBA's "Dancing Queen."
King, whose DC career includes more than 100 productions for the Shakespeare Theatre Company, is just as magnetic to watch. Joey uses a wheelchair and has reverted to acting like an elderly spoiled child, taunting Jennifer and Nan (they can't make him do anything he doesn't want to do) as he scarfs down donuts and curses colorfully. His underlying sense of helplessness comes through in his outbursts, but it doesn't make them any less frustrating to the people trying to help him–especially Jennifer, whom he treats as a servant.
Gilbert gives a fully realized portrayal of a woman who has worked hard, stayed married, and raised children to adulthood; now she wonders what she did it for. As Lili, Fang presents a young woman who doesn't know exactly what she wants from life, but she is determined to get a high enough SAT score that she can go to college out of state.
Scenic designer Paige Hathaway has picked up all the minutiae of the isolated shop, from the glass doors to the promotional signage, as well as the single-use restroom and briefly glimpsed work area behind the counter. Emma Deane's lighting design adds to the setting with the requisite fluorescent ceiling fixtures and the illumination of the mostly empty donut bins, while Ivania Stack's costumes look suitably lived-in.
Jennifer Who Is Leaving runs through May 7, 2023, in rep with On the Far End, at Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda, Maryland. For tickets and information, please call (240) 644-1100 or visit www.roundhousetheatre.org.
Written and directed by Morgan Gould