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Shooting Stars in Jordan

nytheatre.com review by Michael Mraz
August 16, 2012

In a program note, writer/performer Sarah Brown mentions that her brother Jim (who died when she was seven) taught her that “humor is the most generous, life-affirming way to connect with the world around you”.  He taught her well; and her one-woman show Shooting Stars in Jordan, which she dedicates to him and the rest of her family (and seems to owe much to the memory of her brother) shows that not only is humor life-affirming, but it’s a tool that we all use to cope with loss and for when we feel lost.

Shooting Stars in Jordan opens with a woman who is not only physically lost in Jordan, but she seems to have lost herself; her identity, her being.  She wanders the streets looking for a shop that sells maps; she’s admittedly not great with directions.  When she finally finds herself at her destination, we find that she’s not simply looking for a map of Jordan, but a map leading to Hell (yes, the physical place).  It seems that the loss of her beloved brother, a painful betrayal by her family, and a struggle with her religious identity have left her truly lost, and she feels her only choice, her obligation is to dive headlong into Hell.  The story of this woman takes a few detours; she stops at her character’s revelation of her preferred destination, to step out of the play and tell the audience “that was getting a bit intense, don’t you agree?  Let’s take a break.  Let’s go to Hawaii.”  And off to Hawaii we go, to meet a lighter alter-ego of her first character, a divorced woman seeking out a doctor who wrote a book on finding the positives in life to debate which religion she should join, in order to make a life change: Judaism, Islam, or Karaoke?

Brown’s script is full of this witty juxtaposition of seriousness and absurdity; and because the writing has such heart beneath it- the comedy is all the more effective.  We get tender moments of her reminiscing about her brother or broaching tense subjects like unrest in the Middle East, followed swiftly by an impromptu karaoke session or an audience participation dance-party.

Most impressive, though, is Brown’s performance.  She’s hilariously beleaguered throughout and her comic timing is impeccable.  She brings the perfect combination of real worry, real pain, mixed with a nice fatalistic levity.  Most of the script is written as if she’s talking to a scene partner, who we never actually hear; and it’s a testament to her talent that her dialogue almost makes you feel like you hear every word the other unseen character is saying.  Her charisma and sense of fun is contagious- she had people of all ages in the audience in the palm of her hand, as ready-and-willing participants in the show.

The show’s 90 minutes seem to fly by (which is sometimes difficult for a solo show of that length);  it’s such a fun clever ride that you feel you could stay on the train for a little longer by the end.  And though I wasn’t able to readily connect some of the departures in the middle section of the play to its overarching theme, it didn’t detract from my enjoyment.  Shooting Stars in Jordan shows us that, with a little comedy, we might be able to find a little more harmony in our hectic, stressful lives.