Eli and Cheryl Jump
nytheatre.com review by Nat Cassidy
August 17, 2009
The central premise behind Eli and Cheryl Jump is of a man protected from physical harm—by magic, by God, by sheer luck, we'll never know—whose every deliverance results in the death of someone (or something) he cares about in his place. Because of this, his life becomes a sort of self-perpetuating cycle: he attempts to alienate himself from everybody, keeping them safe from this mortal karma, but the guilt he feels drives him to live his life recklessly, hoping for one of his fateful accidents to claim, in his opinion, the right victim. But, unfortunately, someone else always pays the price. And so it goes.
It's a fascinating idea, and though there is much potential in the script, the production is not quite there yet. At the brisk 50-minute-pace that it runs now, there's just not enough room to fully explore all the intriguing nuances present in author Daniel McCoy's story.
Nicole A. Watson's direction is smooth, and her staging makes effective use of just a few chairs, but the two-person cast (Charles Linshaw as Eli and Cassandra Vincent as Cheryl and others) is unfortunately hampered by a number of dialects that serve as a hindrance towards fully inhabiting their characters. Not that they sound bad, by any means, but a lot of the acting choices began to feel academic and sterile, seeming to rely more on how the dialect—and dialogue—sounds and not necessarily the true emotional place from which it came. Both actors are certainly charming and competent, but I never got the feeling that I was watching them really come to life in their roles. I have a feeling that a little more time (and air) onstage would go a ways towards fixing that problem, particularly in the scene in which the titular characters meet.
There are also a number of very abrupt scene changes, meant to startle and disorient the audience, which are, for the most part effective, but occasionally work against the audience's ability to genuinely feel for these characters. It's great to be put into their sense of fear and surprise, but we wind up only sympathizing with them on an animal level, not necessarily on a human one. Again, I just wanted a little more time to breathe with them, to fall in love with them. And it's a testament to all involved in the production that I had such desires.
Buddhist and Hindu texts often refer to the concept of karma as a bud or seed, ready to bear fruit in this life or the next. There is still more to be discovered about Eli's karma, but the fruit it bears will be sweet.