Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham

PlayMakers Repertory Company
Review by Garrett Southerland

April Mae Davis and Adam Poole
Photo by HuthPhoto
How often do we ask each other, "How are you?" and reply, "Fine," without the words really meaning anything? In one of the most affecting moments in Charly Evon Simpson's new play, Jump, in PlayMakers' Paul Green Theatre on the UNC Chapel Hill campus through February 10, a woman asks that question of her sister over and over again, and her sister grows more truthful each time she answers. It's a powerful, poetic symbol of the troubled, troubling depths that might be hiding in the person right next to us.

Jump is set in an unnamed city with a big bridge that clearly means different things to different people, but we quickly come to understand it as a thing that both connects and disconnects, a place in between all sorts of opposites. (Alexis Distler's striking scenic design presents the massiveness of the bridge that looms over a fragmented home interior.) It is on this bridge that we meet Fay (April Mae Davis) as she gazes out into the openness. She comes down to meet her sister Judy (Shanelle Nicole Leonard) and their dad (Trevor Johnson) to pack up the remnants of their former home after the recent passing of their mother. No one seems to want to delve into their grief, but we glimpse the individual demons that plague these three. Flickering lamps mark some surreal time loops in dialogue and action, but only Fay notices (Amith Chandrashaker did the eerie lighting design). Escaping back to the bridge, she meets Hopkins (Adam Poole) who, it turns out, has troubles of his own. Fay becomes caught in a tangle of the obligations she feels—to her family and now to this stranger on the —,and secrets and truths come to the surface in ways she never expected.

Simpson was inspired in part by the horrific images of people jumping to their deaths from the World Trade Center towers in 2001. She wondered, "How bad must it have been for those people to make the decision to jump?" None of the threats in this play are as literal or immediate as an inferno, but it's no secret that depression and mental illness can weigh heavily, and they are difficult topics, not easily discussed or understood, which can affect everyone differently. Simpson makes room for plenty of comedy, only some of it dark, to lighten a play that has plenty of darkness. The story she tells may be too idealistic for some and too raw for others; the audience on opening night was generous with both laughter and tears.

Under the brilliant direction of Whitney White in her PlayMakers debut, this production, part of the National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere series, leans into both its comedic elements and its darkened depths. PlayMakers is even offering brief group processing sessions with licensed therapists following each performance. It is clearly their hope that if we let go of those protective, meaningless responses when someone asks how we are, we might come that much closer to a common fold of understanding and trust.

Jump, through February 10, 2019, by PlayMakers Repertory Company at the Paul Green Theatre at the Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Road, Chapel Hill NC. Tickets can be purchased online at or by phone at 919-962-7529.

Playwright: Charly Evon Simpson
Director: Whitney White
Scenic Design: Alexis Distler
Costume Design: Tristan Raines
Lighting Design: Amith Chandrashaker
Sound Design: Sinan Zafar

Cast (in alphabetical order):
Fay: April Mae Davis
Dad: Trevor Johnson
Judy: Shanelle Nicole Leonard
Hopkins: Adam Poole