nytheatre.com review by Alyssa Simon
August 14, 2008
I was told in school a title of a play is a good place to start to discover its themes. With Traffic Jam, however, I am still lost. I know what happens, but I don't know why. Unfortunately, the playwright and producer Jennifer Bogush, also playing the lead role of Cassie, adds confusion and raises the question of why this play was written and what Bogush means to say.
Cassie is in a hospital waiting room while a relative who may be her father or grandfather is dying. It is not clear in the beginning or throughout exactly who he is. She is waiting with a man (Joe Tuttle) whose relationship to her is also not clear. Cassie is, according to the program, "an absolute train wreck." She is angry, abrasive, and self-absorbed to the point of pathology. She is waiting for Death to arrive to take away the unseen sick person who has caused her such pain.
Tuttle's character leaves and a handsome stranger named Gary (Jeff Branson) enters. Inexplicably, she decides to make a play for him. She gets his attention by tapping on her chair, writhes suggestively while making sexual banter, and actually bends over the chair while inviting him to stare at her body. Instead of calling security, he takes her out to his car in the parking lot to have sex. Is this a sad story of an emotionally unstable woman acting out sexual abuse from her childhood, perhaps perpetrated by the dying relative? It's not certain what exactly is going on.
The play is only 40 minutes long, but Bogush uses a good part of it to rail against people of size. Cassie "hates fat people." At the same time, she continually draws attention to her lithe frame and her ability to drink non-diet soda without weight gain. Why? We never get a reason why the character has such animosity. Bogush has created a character with no redeeming qualities, making it difficult to get on board with her story or be on her side. If anything, the play made me feel I would rather go through life with some extra pounds than not care about people.
As Gary, Branson creates a believable character with moments of truth; a commendable feat given the highly improbable circumstance of responding positively to a disturbed person's noisy attempts at seduction in a hospital waiting room. The same goes for Tuttle, both as the man at the top of the show and later as the personification of Death, a low-key and droll take on the Grim Reaper. One of the the highlights of the play is Tuttle, as the man, simply placing a kiss on top of Cassie's head before leaving, a sign of tenderness towards her despite her disposition. It is that show of humanity I really wanted to see more of.
Melinda Prom, the director, gets the feel of a hospital waiting room right, but the physical actions of Cassie provocatively posing and flinging herself about, including some moves on the floor, shatter any belief in where the characters are and why they are there. I understand the character lacks generosity and boundaries, but it seemed that Bogush was given permission as an actor to show that same behavior to the other actors sharing the stage.
At curtain call, Bogush came out with Branson and Tuttle on either side, held hands for a second, gave what appeared to be a smirk to the audience, dropped both of their hands and left them on the stage. Was she still in character? Unfortunately, that was difficult to understand as well. Hopefully, with further performances it will resolve.