The Broken Jump
nytheatre.com review by Robert Weinstein
July 15, 2007
Baby Hippopotamus Productions' The Broken Jump takes place during the Influenza Epidemic of 1918 and tells the story of Julius McGowen, a wise-cracking, small time comic who has worked 20 years to realize his dream of hitting the big time. It begins with Julian and his partner, Milton Kean, arriving at a theatre in Grand Rapids, Michigan to find that their headlining status has been taken over by a 12-year old singing sensation named Christina Bell. To add to this slight, Christina is accompanied by her mother, Natalie, who Julius walked out on 13 years earlier to pursue his career. The child is not his but the sight of Natalie throws him for a loop: he still carries feelings for Natalie and her appearance acts as a reminder of what his life has not become.
The theatre is run by an ex-boxer named Jack Ruby and Jack has some problems of his own. A silver-haired, smooth-talking senator named Irving Drew is waging a crusade against the declining moral climate in the midst of the epidemic and targets the theatre's employment of the underage Christina as an example of this decline. Ruby's life, it seems, consists of fending off Senator Drew threats, paying health-related fines to an attorney named Mr. Klein, or patiently humoring a boisterous comic named Desmond Donegal, who spends all of his offstage time in Ruby's office, pushing at the bounds of his sanity. All this would seem to lie outside the sphere of Julius's responsibility but when tragedy strikes within the theatre, he is forced to take charge of the colliding events and, unexpectedly, an honest look at his life.
The Broken Jump lacks strong narrative cohesion. The sum of its parts don't come together in a way that allows the actions to build momentum and the characters to blossom, but the play is definitely worth looking at for the parts making up its sum. King Talent's script is especially effective at evoking the energy, atmosphere, and sheer tediousness of lives lived on the road. He is especially attuned to the dynamics of relationships forged between colleagues and competitors who are reconciling the pursuit of their dreams with the fear and disappointments which the chase has dealt them.
Director J.B. Lawrence also stages some wonderful vaudeville routines utilizing the smooth talents of his cast. King Talent as Julius McGowen and Tony King as Milton Kean successfully convey the impression that they've been working together for years. Caitlin Mehner proves her versatility by taking on the lead and the straight man in two very different sketches. Tony King also has some solo bits which capture the manic intensity of his character's desires. And don't venture too far from the lobby during the intermission: Jack Boice as Desmond Donegal belts out a tune that is sure to leave you laughing and happy.